Facebook has filed a lawsuit against two companies that used scraping to harvest data from Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms.
As part of its effort to contain the leak of user data to third parties, Facebook is taking legal action in the United States, against two companies harvesting data from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Amazon, to offer as part of their “marketing intelligence” and other services.
Facebook explains that data scraping, “a form of data collection that relies on unauthorized automation for the purpose of extracting data from a website or app,” violates its Terms of Service. The two companies – BrandTotal Ltd. and Unimania Inc. – evaded Facebook’s first line of defense against scraping by exploiting Facebook users’ access to the platform with browser extensions called “UpVoice” and “Ads Feed.”
The extensions were designed to access and collect data using automated programs, including the name, user ID, gender, date of birth, relationship status, location information, and other information from their accounts. The extensions then sent the scraped data to a shared server controlled by both companies.
“This case is the latest example of our actions to disrupt and enforce against companies that scrape user data, as well as those who enable them,” said Jessica Romero, Director of Platform Enforcement and Litigation at Facebook. “This past June, we filed lawsuits on two continents against companies and individuals providing automation software services that enabled scraping and fake engagement.”
The lawsuits are the first time a social media company has used a coordinated legal strategy across jurisdictions to enforce its Terms.
However, in March 2019, Facebook also took legal action against developers from the Ukraine who were harvesting Facebook user data using quiz apps and browser extensions to scrape profile information and users’ friend lists.
The lawsuits are only a last resort since Facebook had already disabled their accounts and sent cease and desist letters. These were ignored, so Facebook took additional legal action.
“Litigation is just one of the tools we use to combat scraping,” explained Romero. “We’ve also invested in technical teams and tools that monitor and detect suspicious activity and the use of unauthorized automation for scraping.”
Facebook is also working on other measures to combat scraping, but further continuing legal action isn’t out of the question.
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