Can I Sue Facebook?

A few days ago it was revealed that up to 50 million Facebook user’s personal information was extracted and used by a third party without user’s consent. What that really means is the user’s accounts were breached and the data received was or currently is being used by a company outside of Facebook’s control.

Well, at first Facebook denied it. Then they threatened to sue anyone who ran with the story. Now they are pointing fingers. Then word spread like wildfire and Facebook shareholders got spooked and started to sell their stock. Not only that but users started closing down their Facebook accounts in protest. The hashtag #DeleteFacebook starting popping up in defiance of the social giant.

But what really happened? What caused the data breach? And most importantly what rights do users have to seek compensation against Facebook or other social networks when our personal information is compromised?

Well let’s go back to July 2010 in which Facebook sued Power Ventures. In this case, a federal judge ruled that violating a website’s terms of service is not a crime. But the court also found that bypassing technical or code based barriers intended to limit access to or uses of a website may violate California’s computer crime law.

Then in May 2012 Facebook was sued for $15 billion over alleged privacy infractions. This was a class action lawsuit that combined 21 cases across the United States, charging the world’s largest social network with violating user privacy by allegedly tracking their web usage.

So in both of those cases, the individual users right to privacy was a concern. Yet, this time is different. Facebook insists that the third party involved (Cambridge Analytica) didn’t breach the data, but simply misused it.

Facebook’s top executives took to Twitter to argue that the company’s protections had not been breached, and that Facebook was not at fault. Apparently going to a rival social network and exclaiming your innocence is the thing to do nowadays.

“This was unequivocally not a data breach. No systems were infiltrated, no passwords or information were stolen or hacked.” tweeted Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook executive.

What’s damning in this whole matter is that most of the data mined (breached, compromised) was from 2014 through a personality quiz that Cambridge Analytica distributed through Facebook users. Cambridge Analytica paid users small sums to take personality quizzes and then download an app. That app would scrape private information from user’s profiles and from those of their friends. And at the time this was activity that Facebook permitted.

Facebook did nothing to verify how the information Cambridge Analytica collected was being used. Yet, it wasn’t until 2018 that the information regarding the “breach” (or maybe better term would be creative data use) was revealed to the public. The data compromised was brought to light as a plausible explanation before Congressional hearings over Russia’s manipulation of the US Presidential elections. So, now those users whose data was compromised are now being scrutinized by more people in order to determine if said information was actually used in a nefarious way.

Well Congressional Hearings or not, the fact is the information on users was downloaded and used in a manner that was contrary to what was apparently being told to users and seemed to be perfectly acceptable to Facebook at the time.

When you sign up for Facebook, you are given a set of rules. These rules are called Facebook’s terms of service. This is an agreement that although most people don’t read is designed to give you certain rights and protections but also protect Facebook from frivolous legal proceedings.

The date Facebook last revised their terms of service was January 30, 2015. Here’s the URL link to their terms page. https://www.facebook.com/terms.php

In Facebook’s own Statement of Rights and Responsibilities they showcase 18 categories that cover the content you share on their site, your safety, your security, protecting other people’s rights, mobile devices, payments, special provisions for developers, advertisements, advertisers, software, amendments, termination, disputes, definitions and other things that might not fit in the other categories.

Under point # 2 of Facebook’s Rule 15 which covers disputes it states:

If anyone brings a claim against us related to your actions, content or information on Facebook, you will indemnify and hold us harmless from and against all damages, losses, and expenses of any kind (including reasonable legal fees and costs) related to such claim. Although we provide rules for user conduct, we do not control or direct users’ actions on Facebook and are not responsible for the content or information users transmit or share on Facebook. We are not responsible for any offensive, inappropriate, obscene, unlawful or otherwise objectionable content or information you may encounter on Facebook. We are not responsible for the conduct, whether online or offline, of any user of Facebook.

Under point #3 of Facebook’s Rule 15 the second, third and fourth sentences read:

WE ARE PROVIDING FACEBOOK AS IS WITHOUT ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, AND NON-INFRINGEMENT. WE DO NOT GUARANTEE THAT FACEBOOK WILL ALWAYS BE SAFE, SECURE OR ERROR-FREE OR THAT FACEBOOK WILL ALWAYS FUNCTION WITHOUT DISRUPTIONS, DELAYS OR IMPERFECTIONS. FACEBOOK IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ACTIONS, CONTENT, INFORMATION, OR DATA OF THIRD PARTIES, AND YOU RELEASE US, OUR DIRECTORS, OFFICERS, EMPLOYEES, AND AGENTS FROM ANY CLAIMS AND DAMAGES, KNOWN AND UNKNOWN, ARISING OUT OF OR IN ANY WAY CONNECTED WITH ANY CLAIM YOU HAVE AGAINST ANY SUCH THIRD PARTIES.

So does this mean you can’t sue Facebook? Not at all. You can sue anyone. Winning is a different question. But, as an individual going up against a giant like Facebook you could exhaust your resources quickly, regardless if Facebook was wrong and you were right. As part of a class (a group of people coming together for the sole purpose of collectively suing) your chances of winning the fight increase. Yet, increasingly courts have been limiting who can file a class action and under what circumstances.

If your data was compromised by Facebook or any of the social media networks and used in a manner that you did not approve, you might have legal recourse. Even when the social media network provider says you have no rights. If you have been injured in an automobile crash, or by a defective product, and questions about your rights, or even when it comes to social media and whether your claim might be a claim that would be included within a class action lawsuit call the Law Offices of David Holub at (219)736-9700 today.