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Suit in California Superior Court Alleging Misuse of User Data by Facebook

The Tip of the Night for May 12, 2018 , discussed speculation that social media apps were accessing mics on smart phones to listen in conversations, and send users targeted advertising. I discussed a Wired article written by a former Facebook employee who denied that Facebook was recording its users conversations, and asserted that it was impractible for them to do so because of the amount of data that it would need to collect.

A complaint filed with the California Superior Court for San Mateo County, Six4Three, LLC v. Facebook, Inc., No. CIV 533328 (Cal. Super. Jan. 12, 2018), contends that Facebook does indeed access user's microphones, as well as their texts and location data:

Upon information and belief, at least by 2013 and continuing at least through 2015, 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. For example, upon information and belief, Facebook expanded its program to access and monitor the microphone on Android phones in 2015 without securing the explicit consent of all users and while only providing partial disclosures as to what information was being obtained and for what purposes it was being used. ¶ 233.

The plaintiff in this suit, Six4Three, LLC, alleges that Facebook operated a fraudulent scheme that induced it and other developers to enter into contractual agreements with Facebook in exchange for access to social data. The complaint also alleges that Facebook misuses its users' photo data:

a user has any Facebook app installed on their iPhone, then Facebook accesses and analyzes (using facial and other image recognition) the photos the user takes and/or stores on the iPhone (see, e.g., https:/ /www 1 0209909027988265). Facebook's partial disclosures regarding iPhone photo access and what information it gleans from the photos have been woefully deficient. Ibid.

The complaint asserts that Facebook improperly collects and archives its users' photos:

. . . proposed technical "fix" by Facebook was to create an offline, searchable cache of Facebook's users' photos. But this solution (1) on its face violates Facebook's own terms, (2) would not permit the App to function as originally intended and in the same manner it had been, and (3) could result in a grave and substantial abuse of user trust, violate user privacy, and gut the core principle of an individual's ownership and control of their own data. ¶ 170

Strong reason to doubt that Facebook's denials about how aggressively to collects text, photo, and audio data from its users.

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