Facebook Privacy Case Down to One Plaintiff

     SAN JOSE (CN) — Facebook must face claims that it disseminated a woman’s personal information to third parties without her permission, a federal judge ruled.
     U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte allowed the case to move forward as to plaintiff Wendy Marfeo, finding that she had suffered harm by Facebook sharing her personal and private information despite the tech company’s many assertions it would not do so.
     “The court is not convinced that plaintiffs’ theory of harm is disconnected from Facebook’s alleged breach,” Whyte wrote in the 13-page decision.
     Facebook argued that Marfeo lacked standing to bring the case because she did not suffer damages as a result of the alleged contract breach. Whyte acknowledged that the case is complicated but ultimately allowed Marfeo’s claims to move forward.
     However, he did grant Facebook’s motion to dismiss as to the other plaintiff in the case. Katherine Pohl had joined Marfeo in brining the suit, attempting to convince the federal court to certify the two of them as a class.
     However, Whyte ruled Pohl never clicked on a third-party website while logged onto Facebook during the period in question and as such lacked standing.
     “Facebook’s ad-click data shows that Ms. Pohl’s only ad click during the class period directed Ms. Pohl to the advertiser’s Facebook page, rather than the advertiser’s external website,” Whyte said in the ruling. “Therefore, the referrer header associated with Ms. Pohl’s ad click would have been sent to a Facebook server, rather than any third party advertiser’s server.”
     The dispute revolves around “referrer headers”, which is sent to the destination website’s server whenever anyone navigates to a particular website via a link. In other words, when a person clicks on a link to go to a website, the website is often given information about where the user came from — Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter or another similar website.
     Marfeo and Pohl claimed that prior to July 2010 those referrer headers contained personal and private information that was Facebook was contractually bound to protect.
     For instance, Marfeo says that when clicked on an advertisement from Facebook and navigated to that page, the owner of that page was given information that allowed them to personally identify her despite Facebook’s promise that her information was secure.
     “Facebook acknowledges that ‘in theory,’ a recipient of both the ‘ref=profile’ string and a user ID or username would be able to identify the Facebook user who clicked on the ad,” Whyte said in the ruling.
     Facebook said that even if the facts were true, Marfeo could produce zero evidence that a third party took the information and kept it or used it in a manner that harmed her. Therefore, Marfeo did not suffer any harm and lacked Article III standing, according to the social network giant — an argument that proved unpersuasive at this stage in the case.
     The case dates back to August 2010, when several different claims were consolidated under the caption In re Facebook Privacy Litigation.
     The court dismissed the federal and state claims in November 2011. But the Ninth Circuit reversed two of the eight dismissed claims, finding plaintiffs’ allegations were sufficient to support breach of contract and fraud claims.
     The case was remanded back to Federal Court.
     Whyte also issued a heavily redacted order denying class certification, saying the individualized questions in the particular case are greater than any potential common claims between multiple users.
     “We are pleased that the court ruled in our favor and determined that the case should not proceed as a class action,” a Facebook representative said in an email.

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