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Meta can proceed with data-scraping suit against UK surveillance startup

In a lawsuit from 2023, Meta said Voyager Labs created more than 38,000 fake accounts to scrape data for its investigative software, which is used by law enforcement.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge ruled Thursday that Meta — parent company of Facebook and Instagram — can proceed with its lawsuit against Voyager Labs, a U.K.-based surveillance startup.

Meta claims the company created thousands of fake accounts to scrape data from Meta’s platforms, all as part of a plan to collect data from real Facebook users for Voyager’s surveillance business.

Voyager Labs specializes in investigative software and services designed to assist law enforcement and companies in gathering information about suspects.

In its lawsuit, Meta claimed that Voyager Labs' software was fueled by data improperly collected from Facebook and Instagram, as well as from other non-Meta platforms such as Twitter and YouTube.

Meta sued Voyager Labs in 2023 in federal court in California. In its complaint, Meta said Voyager Labs created more than 38,000 fake Facebook user accounts, which it said Voyager used to scrape publicly posted information from more than 600,000 Facebook users.

Among the scraped data were posts, likes, photos, and friend lists — all in violation of Meta’s terms of service and California law, the California tech giant argued. Seeking damages and injunctive relief, Meta has asked the court to force Voyager Labs to disgorge profits related to the data-scraping.

Voyager moved to dismiss the claims, arguing that Meta had failed to prove that there was any contract between the two parties and that the court lacked jurisdiction.

In a six-page ruling on Thursday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Araceli Martinez-Olguin, a Biden appointee, rejected both of Voyager’s arguments and instead allowed the case to proceed.

On the contract claims, Martinez-Olguin said Voyager clearly violated provisions of Meta’s terms of use, which prohibit the automatic accessing or collecting of data from Meta’s products without prior permission.

Martinez-Olguin also found that Voyager violated Facebook's policies barring fake accounts and limiting users to only one personal account. Voyager also violated Instagram’s policy prohibiting the selling, licensing or purchasing of any account data obtained from Instagram, the judge said.

Martinez-Olguin noted Meta had sent cease-and-desist letters and other correspondence to Voyager on several occasions, including in October 2017, November 2022 and February 2023.

These correspondences, the judge said, identified the provisions Voyager breached and were adequate to prove the existence of a contract between the parties. From that point, she said, Voyager knowingly breached that contract as it continued to create fake accounts and attempted to avoid detection.

“It is plausible to infer that Voyager’s continued use of the social media platforms signified its assent to those terms," Martinez-Olguin wrote. They were rules which "every user must accept in order to use Facebook and Instagram."

Lawyers for Voyager and Meta did not immediately respond to requests for comment by press time.

Categories / Securities, Technology

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