Facebook covertly carried out mass surveillance on users, court told
News / App developer alleges Facebook covertly carried out mass surveillance on users
25 May 2018
Back in March, a report from Ars Technica revealed how Facebook “surreptitiously” harvested contact lists, phone numbers, and call and text history of millions of users who used their Android phones to log in to the platform.
The report mentioned that Facebook managed to obtain so much information by exploiting poor privacy settings in old Android operating systems that allowed apps to access call logs on Android devices.
Facebook’s data collection practices challenged in court
Details about Facebook’s alleged large-scale surveillance campaign has now reached the doors of the superior court in San Mateo, California. In a lawsuit filed against the social media behemoth, Six4Three LLC has introduced documents which it claims are proof of the fact that Facebook carried out mass surveillance on users in a covert manner for years. The documents include “confidential emails and messages between Facebook senior executives”.
“Facebook continued to explore and implement ways to track users’ location, to track and read their texts, to access and record their microphones on their phones, to track and monitor their usage of competitive apps on their phones, and to track and monitor their calls,” Six4Three told the court.
Even though fresh documents in support of the plaintiff’s allegations were submitted before the court last week, the lawsuit was filed back in 2015 in response to Facebook’s decision to remove the developer’s access to photos of Facebook users. As per an earlier agreement between Facebook and Six4Three, the latter invested in software that could automatically search and organize photos based on their contents in order to provide a more advanced photo sharing service for Facebook’s users.
Back in April, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a blog post that not only did Facebook ban Cambridge Analytica from using its services after it found that the data analytics firm had been harvesting data of millions of users, it also took steps in 2014 to dramatically limit the data apps could access, and this move stopped apps from collecting data belonging to a person’s friends unless their friends had also authorized the app. Six4Three could have been among the affected firms whose access to Facebook users’ data was severely curtailed.
The app developed by Six4Three, named Pikinis, allowed Facebook users to find photos of their friends in bikinis and other swimwear, according to The Guardian.
According to Six4Three, not only did Facebook harvest text messages but also photos in users’ devices that had not been uploaded to Facebook. At the same time, Facebook had the capability to remotely activate Bluetooth to determine the location of a user without his/her authorisation.
“Facebook made partial disclosures around this time regarding privacy settings but did not fully disclose that it had caused certain settings to lapse after a period of time.
“Facebook disclosed publicly that it was reading text messages in order to authenticate users more easily … [but] this partial disclosure failed to state accurately the type of data Facebook was accessing, the timeframe over which it had accessed it, and the reasons for accessing the data of these Android users.
“Facebook used this data to give certain Facebook products and features an unfair competitive advantage over other social applications on Facebook Platform,” the plaintiff told the court.
Facebook has vehemently denied the allegations, stating that it did collect call and text message data of user but never without obtaining prior consent. The company added that the allegations of the plaintiff are without merit and that it would continue to defend itself vigorously.