Facebook has agreed to stop selling information gathered from users’ private messages to third-party ad services.
The Consumerist reports that three years ago, a group of Facebook users sued the company claiming that links shared in private messages between users were being shared with third-party advertising companies in order boost Facebook’s ad revenue.
The lawsuit claimed that when users would send links in supposedly private messages, Facebook would intercept these links, scan them, and use the content of these links to profile the user. If the link also contained a Facebook “like” button, Facebook would automatically like the content for you.
The lawsuit reads, “Representing to users that the content of Facebook messages is ‘private’ creates an especially profitable opportunity for Facebook, because users who believe they are communicating on a service free from surveillance are likely to reveal facts about themselves that they would not reveal had they known the content was being monitored… Thus, Facebook has positioned itself to acquire pieces of the users’ profiles that are likely unavailable to other data aggregators.”
A motion was filed by the class’ counsel requesting the approval of a settlement that was agreed upon by the two sides in December which would put an end to the issue following six months of negotiation. The settlement reads, “The settlement achieves significant business practice changes, and benefits the settlement class now.” The “significant business practice changes” is a reference to Facebook’s promise to no longer monitor the links sent in private Messenger conversations.
Facebook has agreed to no longer use the information scanned from links sent in private messages to profile users and sell the information to third-party advertisers. Links will also no longer be used to increase the “like” metrics of particular Facebook pages. Facebook’s Data Policy was updated during litigation in January 2015 to note that “content and other information” that people provide when they “message or communicate with others” will be collected by the company.
Facebook has also agreed to add language to their Help Center which will point users towards “tools to identify and store links shared in messages, including a count of the number of times links are shared.”