Facebook A lawsuit was filed in the United States today against two companies involved in an international data scraping operation. The process spanned Facebook properties, including Facebook and Instagram, as well as other major websites and services, including Twitter, Amazon, LinkedIn and YouTube. The companies that collected Facebook user data for “marketing intelligence” purposes did so in violation of Facebook’s terms of service, Facebook says.
The companies named in the lawsuits are BrandTotal Ltd. based in Israel and Unimania Inc., a Delaware corporation.
According to BrandTotal’s website, the company provides a real-time competitive intelligence platform that enables media, insight, and analytics teams to see their competition̵
In the meantime, Unimania was running apps that were supposed to offer users the opportunity to access social networks in different ways. For example, Unimania offered apps that let you view Facebook through a mobile web interface or alongside other social networks such as Twitter. Another app allows you to view Instagram stories anonymously.
However, Facebook’s lawsuit mainly focuses on two browser extensions offered by the companies: Unimania’s “Ads Feed” and BrandTotal’s “UpVoice”.
The former allowed users to save the ads they saw on Facebook for future reference. As stated on the extension’s page, this would involve users in a panel that would inform Unimania’s corporate customers’ advertising choices. UpVote, on the other hand, rewarded users with gift cards for using the best social networks and shopping sites and sharing their opinions on major brands’ online campaigns.
Facebook lawsuit against BrandTotal Ltd. and Unimania Inc. from TechCrunch on Scribd
Data scrapers are sometimes in place to collect as much information as possible using automated tools like bots and scripts. Cambridge Analytica scraped millions of Facebook profiles in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election in order to target undecided voters. Other data scraping operations use bots to monitor concert or event ticket prices and undercut the competition. Scrapped data can also be used for marketing and advertising, or simply sold to others.
Most of the data scraping cases are under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was enacted in the 1980s to prosecute computer hacking cases. Anyone who accesses a computer “without authorization” can face heavy fines or even prison terms.
However, because the law doesn’t specifically define what is and isn’t “authorized” access, tech giants have had mixed results in their efforts to shut down data scrapers.
LinkedIn lost its high profile case against HiQ Labs in 2019 after an appeals court ruled that the scraper only collected data that was publicly available from the internet. Internet rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation praised the decision, arguing that Internet users should not be exposed to legal threats “just to access publicly available information in a manner that publishers object”.
Facebook’s recent legal case is slightly different, as the company accuses BrandTotal of scratching Facebook profile data that was not inherently public. According to Facebook, the accused data scraper used a browser extension installed on users’ computers to gain access to their Facebook profile data.
In March 2019, action was taken against two Ukrainian developers who collected data using quiz apps and browser extensions to scrape people’s profile information and friend lists, according to Facebook. A California court recently recommended a verdict in favor of Facebook on the case. A separate case about scraping, filed last year against a marketing partner, Stackla, also came back in favor of Facebook.
That year, Facebook filed lawsuits against companies and individuals involved in both scraping and fake engagement services.
However, Facebook isn’t just cracking down on data scraping companies to protect user privacy. This can result in large fines. Facebook was ordered earlier this year to pay out more than half a billion dollars to settle a class action lawsuit alleging a systematic violation of an Illinois privacy law. Last year it reached an agreement with the FTC on privacy breaches and was fined $ 5 billion. As governments work to further regulate online privacy regulations and data breaches, such fines could add up.
The company says legal action isn’t the only way to stop data scraping. The company has also invested in technical teams and tools to monitor and detect suspicious activity and the use of unauthorized automation for scraping.