Woman Sues Facebook For Allegedly Violating Wiretap Law

Accusing Facebook of violating federal wiretap laws by tracking her web use when she wasn’t logged in to the site, a Mississippi woman is taking the social networking giant to court. Her suit, which seeks class action status, is going after Facebook for trespassing, invasion of privacy, unjust enrichment and breach of contract.

The Register reports her complaint says Facebook tracked, collected and stored portions of browsing history without her consent while she was not logged on to the site. The complaint says Facebook violates a portion of its own privacy policy that says logged-out users who visit sites with Facebook-connected plugins send limited info to Facebook.

The company has said that tracking cookies singled out by privacy advocates are meant to prevent spam and phishing operations and that Facebook doesn’t log all of the data it reaps with the tracking devices. Facebook did not comment to the Register about the woman’s suit.

Facebook accused of violating US wiretap law [The Register via Slashdot]


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  1. agent 47 says:

    Finally, a legitimate use for the wiretap law. See, it’s not just for cops to use to trump up charges against people who hold them accountable!

  2. Straspey says:

    While she may have a valid point regarding Facebook’s alleged violation of its own privacy policy – I’m skeptical as to her overall complaint for one simple reason…

    Participation on Facebook is *voluntary* – and one can be sure the lawyers for Facebook will make that point: “If she doesn’t want us to track her movements, then she’s free to stop her Facebook participation at any time.”

    Also – as a side note – there are many methods, readily available, by which the home user can easily and simply delete all tracking cookies from their computer and browser histories.

    • wrjohnston91283 says:

      Going to a restaurant is voluntary, but if the restaurant is poisoning people, I don’t think the excuse “stop coming here” is going to work.

      • r-nice says:

        Facebook isn’t life and death, for some people at least.

        • wrjohnston91283 says:

          So breaking the law for voluntary users is ok, as long as you don’t kill people? Fine, what about a restaurant that steals from their customers by overcharging them? Is it ok since the people keep coming back?

          • bassbeast says:

            Yes, because that’s douchey, not illegal.

            • Ela Darling says:

              Fact check: stealing is, in fact, illegal.

              • bassbeast says:

                Fact check: overcharging is not stealing.

                Fact check 2: making a short statement before a colon doesn’t excuse you from actually reading what I replied to, or acting rudely.

                • Twonkey says:

                  For someone with a stick up his ass about the possibility that his six-word-long, single-sentence response may not have been read properly, you sure don’t read for shit yourself. Overcharging in and of itself might not be theft, but that’s exactly what it becomes at the point when you start doing it knowingly, which I believe was implied in his scenario. I don’t believe that he referred to what otherwise would be a simple mistake as stealing just for shits and giggles.

                  As for fact check number 2, Ela’s response wasn’t rude. Mine probably is though. Please note the difference.

            • sprybuzzard says:

              Stealing is not illegal?? Where do you live so I can go steal your stuff, it’s not illegal!

        • maruawe says:

          You can always use Google plus and the privacy is much better.

    • Yomiko says:

      Yes, but she was choosing to participate based on a privacy policy which didn’t reflect Facebook’s actual actions. It’s a bait-and-switch.

    • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

      Being a United States resident is voluntary. If the government wiretaps, can they just say, “If you don’t like it, leave.”?

      • kc2idf says:

        Right. And then you leave, and the keep wiretapping you anyway.

      • Straspey says:

        Wiretaps require a court order and/or approval by a judicial authority.

        Facebook’s tracking cookies do not.

        Also – the government does not provide you with a written “privacy policy” regarding their use of wiretaps.

        Try again.

        • sth9669 says:

          yeah, except if you make a call to certain countries overseas and then your call is wiretapped warrantlessly by the NSA. . . but I guess you could just not call your family member or friend who is having that emergency abroad, or I guess you could just stop being an American, after all, it is voluntary, you can renounce your citizenship. . .

    • The_IT_Crone says:

      Since it tracks you when you’re not logged in, you could quit using Facebook and still be tracked, eh?

    • nicless says:

      Ok, let’s say she hears about this and stops using Facebook. Well, they are still tracking her. So even signing out and never using the site again doesn’t stop the issue she is suing for. Also, Facebook was recently admonished for using “supercookies” which your normal every day user can’t just delete by clearing temp files and deleting cookies the normal way.

      • Straspey says:

        The very popular CCleaner removes all flash cookies. I make sure to run it a few times a day – if not after every browsing session. And – it’s free.


        • dangerp says:

          You shouldn’t have to have a specialty tool just to get rid of stalking cookies that websites plant on your HD. That’s like saying it’s ok if you stab me because I can just go to the ER and get it patched up.

          Fixable != OK

          • Straspey says:

            My recommending a 3rd-party security software to help protect your privacy has no relevance to your stabbing-ER comparison.

            Some of the far-fetched and ridiculous comparative scenarios people come up with here, when they disagree with a comment, are incredible.

            What’s next ?

            “So, if you tell somebody that you’re depressed and unhappy with your life, then it’s okay for them to kill you, just to put you out of your misery?”

            I’m sure somebody here will use that one – it it hasn’t be posted already.

            • Twonkey says:

              “Some of the far-fetched and ridiculous comparative scenarios people come up with here, when they disagree with a comment, are incredible.”

              Hey, don’t knock it before you’ve tried it. It beats actually having to come up with a sane and reasonable rebuttal to another member’s points. In fact, pulling a batshit comparison scenario out of your ass allows you to argue with people that you couldn’t otherwise argue with, by making it appear as if that person has implied something that he never did! It’s fun for the whole family!

              • Straspey says:

                “In fact, pulling a batshit comparison scenario out of your ass…”

                Sir – I am giving you full and absolute credit for having coined a new Consumerist term:

                “Batshit Comparison Scenario” – shortened for convenience to “Batshit Scenario”

                I look forward to using it often here in replying to – well…people who give Batshit Scenario replies to other people’s posts.

                The internet belongs to you for the rest of today, and all day tomorrow.

          • dangerp says:

            Fine, then that’s like violating my privacy and then saying it’s ok because the next time I’ll know how to keep you out.

            Rather than attack my analogy (regardless of hyperbole), why don’t you address the issue? Just because there is a way to kill the facebook tracking cookies does not make their invasion of privacy any more justified.

    • dangerp says:

      The fact that it is a voluntary service isn’t the issue here. If they are secretly and without her knowledge tracking her actions, invading her privacy, and selling her information, then they are very clearly in the wrong. I don’t know enough about electronic surveillance law to know if they violated it specifically, but it seems pretty clear they are operating outside the law (at the very least, from a violation of privacy standpoint). The “voluntary” argument here is just a red herring.

      The fact that it is possible for someone to try to undo their tracking cookies after they have already been installed and have been tracking you is irrelevant.

    • IgnoramusEtIgnorabimus says:

      its a voluntary website but you still have to permit the tracking or have a warrant against you for it to be legal.

  3. tekmiester says:

    I wonder if this is a “make a company behave better” type of class action or a “sue to make the lawyers lots of money” type.

  4. SagarikaLumos says:

    And I wonder (as a non-Facebook user) whether they’re tracking me anyway under the assumption that my browser habits could still be tied to me later if I register. I’ve heard it said that it keeps a profile of many non-members who overlap heavily into members’ profiles, allowing photos tagged by name and so on even for non-members. Scary.

    • Darsynia says:

      Yeah, as far as I understand it, they do, as a ‘courtesy’ so that you don’t have to start from scratch, or something.

      It’s just like when I get a link from a friend to look at a pretty dress or something, and then for the next two weeks I see that very same dress in advertisements all across the internet. I never signed up for anything like that, I suspect it’s FB.

    • JoeDawson says:

      I can tag any photo with any name, ie. my 6 mo old nephew’s photos I posted on Facebook… If he were to sign up for Facebook, his name would already be there.

  5. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Scariest moment of my internet life was when I visited a site completely unrelated to Facebook, was not logged into Facebook, but the site had an advertisement suggesting I log into Facebook to connect to the friend listed in the ad. The scary part of it was, I knew the person they suggested but I had no friend or friend-of-a-friend added in Facebook to connect me to him. How the fuck did they know about him?

    • valkyrievf2x says:

      I think Terminator was wrong about Skynet coming from military sources… Soon, FB is gonna be self aware and launch the nukes…

      It is REALLY creepy how they find email addresses that you long deleted from your address books and they STILL somehow manage to get such info and show you their matches on FB…

      • maruawe says:

        That might be a valid reason to crawl their website and read their program code. I happen to know a guy that can do it and as an added bonus ..He hates Facebook with a passion.

      • Not Given says:

        I thought Skynet renamed itself Google

    • Power Imbalance says:

      That happened to me too and that’s when I knew there was some kind of nasty cookie on my puter from Facebook. I hope this goes class action because I’ll sign on as a plaintiff

    • LandruBek says:

      I would say “just clear your cookies,” but that’s grown to be very difficult.

  6. Rocket says:

    I never browse other sites while logged into my Facebook account, and I make sure to log out of it before going to other sites. I figured that would help stop their tracking. Guess not. I’ll totally get in on this class action if I can.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      See above, loggin out doesn’t really end it at all.

    • dangerp says:

      I *only* open facebook in a private tab (porn mode) in chrome, for exactly this reason. I’m sure they’ve found some clever way to subvert this (see commenters above about tracking non-members), but at least I won’t have any cookies tied to my login on my main browser.

      Maybe I’ll just cancel facebook. The only hard part is that my friends refuse to invite anybody to anything using a medium other than facebook. grrr.

  7. maruawe says:

    Hope that she wins this one

  8. maruawe says:

    That might be a valid reason to crawl their website and read their program code. I happen to know a guy that can do it and as an added bonus ..He hates Facebook with a passion.

  9. SteveHolt says:

    Facebook is getting to be pretty evil. Did myspace or friendster ever do this crap? I’m amazed so many people still have facebook accounts.

  10. Elgog Partynipple says:

    Using Facebook is volutary as per the Terms of Service. If you use Facebook and rely on it’s Terms of Service then if Facebook does not follow its Terms of Service they have commited fraud. This can be compensated through civil legal action.

  11. pika2000 says:

    This woman’s suit has no grounds. Facebook had a deal with the CIA, and there’s the Patriot Act.