Mark Zuckerberg Gets Bad News From Court

( On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered some bad news to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The high court said it wouldn’t hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that refused to pare back the $15 billion class action lawsuit against the social media giant.

The class action suit accuses Facebook of violating the Wiretap Act, which is a federal law. They did so, according to the suit, by tracking users’ visits to websites that use some of Facebook’s features, such as a its “like” button.

It did this in secret, without informing users of what they were doing, according to the suit, and it did so even when users were completely logged out of Facebook.

The lawsuit goes one step further in saying Facebook violated the privacy rights of the social media platform’s users under California law. Facebook was only appealing to the Supreme Court regarding the Wiretap Act, though.

The nationwide class action lawsuit that’s been proposed in California federal court was done so by four individuals. That suit seeks up to $15 billion in damages for the actions undertaken by Facebook, which is based in California. The time period covered is April 2010 through September 2011.

Court documents said that Facebook stopped this type of tracking of users in 2011, once a researcher exposed what the company was doing.

Facebook has continually said that it protects the privacy of all of its users. They also said they shouldn’t be forced to face liability over any computer-to-computer communications that are commonplace.

Across the world, Facebook has more than 2.4 billion users, with more than 200 million coming from the United States.

The case at hand deals with plug-ins that other websites and apps often incorporate into their own sites and apps. These are used to track what users browse as well as their browsing history.

They also use “cookies,” which are digital files that help companies help identify users on the internet. The plaintiffs in the class action case say Facebook was making these plug-ins available and then packaging up all the data that they tracked and selling it off to advertisers. In other words, they were making a direct profit off their users’ information and web browsing habits.

Facebook countered that is uses this data, and any other data it gets, to tailor content on its website to each of its users. They also use it to improve ads that are displayed and served on their website and app.

In 2017, a federal judge dismissed the case. In 2020, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco revived it, allowing the state privacy claim and Wiretap Act claim to move forward. In its ruling, the 9th Circuit said:

“Facebook’s user profiles would allegedly reveal an individual’s likes, dislikes, interests and habits over a significant amount of time, without affording users a meaningful opportunity to control or prevent the unauthorized exploration of their private lives.”

In their appeal to the Supreme Court, Facebook defended its actions by saying it was a party to all the communications. Therefore, it shouldn’t be liable under the Wiretap Act. They wrote in court filings:

“Facebook was not an uninvited interloper to a communication between two separate parties; it was a direct participant.”