Facebook Sued for Sharing Private Data With Device Makers

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Two class action lawsuits filed Thursday seek billions of dollars in damages from Facebook for sharing users’ private data with device makers, adding to the woes of the social media behemoth already rocked by scandal and a recently plunging stock price.

One of the lawsuits, filed by lead plaintiff Velma Rankins of Oakland, California, claims that Facebook created a “secret back door” to share millions of users’ private data with more than 60 device makers, including Apple, Samsung, and Amazon, starting in 2007.

“These data-sharing partnerships have enabled device makers to obtain substantial sensitive and personal information, directly from a user as well as from his or her friends,” the 25-page complaint states.

According to the lawsuit, Facebook concealed its sharing of personal data with device makers until April 2018 when it updated its data policy, a few weeks before the New York Times published an investigative piece revealing the practice.

Rankins claims the data-sharing arrangements violate the terms of a 2011 consent decree Facebook signed with the Federal Trade Commission – effective for 20 years – that requires Facebook to disclose all categories of user data shared with third parties and the types of third parties receiving that data.

Facebook did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday, but in a June 3 response to the New York Times piece, the company said data was shared solely to enable device makers to “recreate the Facebook experience” for users. Each device maker, or “partner,” signed contracts forbidding the use of Facebook data for any other purpose, according to the company’s statement on its website.

Facebook announced in April that it was “winding down” its data-sharing partnerships with device makers. As of June 3, 2018, the company said it had ended 22 such partnerships.

But according to Rankins, that doesn’t let Facebook off the hook for concealing the data-sharing agreements for more than a decade.

The lawsuit cites violations of the Stored Communications Act, California privacy rights and business laws, intrusion upon seclusion, trespass to personal property, and nuisance.

Rankins seeks a permanent injunction barring Facebook from sharing such data, class certification, disgorgement, punitive damages, and statutory damages of $1,000 for each violation of the Stored Communications Act. With a proposed class of millions of Facebook users, the social media network could be liable for billions of dollars in damages.

Rankins is represented by Sabita Soneji of Tycko & Zavareei in Oakland.

A second, similar class action was also filed against Facebook on Thursday by lead plaintiff Susan Hwang, a California resident represented by attorney Clayeo Arnold of Sacramento.

The lawsuits comes after a major scandal rocked Facebook earlier this year for sharing 87 million users’ private data with a data-mining firm affiliated with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress amidst a series of privacy class actions related to the scandal. A separate flood of litigation accused the company of collecting Android phone users’ contacts, call histories and text message data without consent.

In July, Facebook’s market value dropped $119 billion in one day – one of the biggest one-day losses by any company in U.S. stock market history – after Facebook announced that its user base and revenue grew more slowly than expected in its second quarter.

Facebook remains the world’s largest online social network with 1.47 billion daily active users and more than 2 billion monthly active users as of June 30, 2018.

The company has a total market value close to $511 billion, which exceeds the annual gross domestic product of countries like Poland, Belgium and Iran, according to the Associated Press.

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