Privacy Case Over Facebook Ads Dropped

     SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) — A woman has dropped her privacy case against Facebook weeks after a federal judge thwarted her attempt to lead a nationwide class of users she said had their personal information exposed by clicking on ads.
     Wendy Marfeo, who claimed Facebook made her private information available when she clicked on the site’s advertisements, asked to have her case against the world’s largest social networking website dismissed with prejudice on Monday.
     U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte signed off on the request, three weeks after he denied Marfeo’s motion for class certification. Whyte found that the factors involved in Marfeo’s claims were too unique to her individual experience to be representative of a large group of Facebook users.
     “Plaintiffs have not established that breach or misrepresentation can be established by common proof on a classwide basis,” Whyte wrote in a 19-page order release earlier this month.
     Marfeo’s inability to get the class certified essentially sounded the death knell for her case, as damages relating to a data breach that affects a single individual would be either minimal or nonexistent. Marfeo initially demanded $5 million from Facebook when she sued in 2010.
     The dispute centered on a technical aspect of web surfing called “referrer headers.” When someone browsing Facebook clicks on an advertisement hosted on the site, that person is redirected to the advertiser’s website.
     During this process, the advertiser’s site is sent information, which sometimes includes the URL of the website where the advertisement was hosted — in this case, Facebook.
     Referrer headers are not unique to Facebook. In fact, they are common to internet advertising since they let advertisers know where their traffic is coming from in order to make more informed decisions about future advertising placement.
     But according to Marfeo, when she clicked an ad on Facebook, the referrer headline not only contained information showing she was on Facebook at the time, but also her personal information which the advertiser could potentially use to indentify her.
     Marfeo said in her initial and amended complaints that the involuntary disclosure of her personal information to third-party advertisers violates the assurances Facebook makes in its privacy policy and constitutes a breach of contract.
     In case briefs, Facebook acknowledged the theoretical possibility that a third party could identify the specific Facebook user who clicked on an ad from information contained in the referrer header, but insisted no third party ever gathered Marfeo’s data let alone used it.
     Marfeo said whether a third party used the data was immaterial and sought to establish a nationwide class of individuals, asserting that anyone who clicked on an advertisement hosted by Facebook could have had their personal information disclosed to third parties despite assurances in the social media network’s terms of service.
     Whyte agreed with Marfeo that the data didn’t necessarily have to be obtained or used by a third party for breach of contract claims to be relevant, but his agreement with Facebook’s arguments that the factors in Marfeo’s particular instance did not predominate over a class proved more consequential.
     Such factors include the use of different internet browsers, which have different privacy configurations and different methods of managing referrer headlines. Other Facebook users may have installed more robust privacy tools capable of removing the information from the referrers, and whether a person was on a personal or work computer plays a role as well.
     In short, Whyte said “Facebook has produced unrefuted evidence that the questions of breach and misrepresentation cannot be resolved through Facebook’s ad click data alone.”

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