Judge consolidates class actions alleging Facebook used info from private messages

By Kyla Asbury | Apr 22, 2014

OAKLAND, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - An order granting the consolidation of related actions and appointing interim counsel has been filed in a lawsuit against Facebook alleging privacy concerns.

The order, which was filed April 15 in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California, states that Campbell v. Facebook and Shadpour v. Facebook will be consolidated and named Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, Carney Bates & Pullman and Pomerantz LLP as interim class counsel.

On April 4, Facebook filed its response to the plaintiffs' motion to consolidate related actions and appoint interim counsel.

Facebook "supports plaintiffs' request to consolidate the cases for pretrial purposes...Facebook specifically reserves its right to oppose class certification on all available grounds including but not limited to the absence of common questions susceptible to common answers...and that common questions do not predominate over individualized questions," according to the response.

The plaintiffs' motion to consolidate related actions and appoint interim counsel was filed on March 21.

"Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(a), this Court has discretion to consolidate actions if they 'involve a common question of law or fact,'" the motion states. "The Shadpour and Campbell actions, which the Court has already ordered be related...should now be consolidated."

These actions are predicated on substantially similar factual allegations, and they assert the same state law claims, according to the motion. Consolidation will save the court and the parties considerable time and expense.

Both complaints assert legal violations based on the same alleged conduct: the alleged scanning of URLs in private messages between Facebook users for the purpose of delivering targeted advertising and building user profiles.

"The allegations are more than similar," the motion states. "In fact, the complaints contain dozens of identical allegations, ranging from general background on data aggregation and Facebook's business model, to the core conduct purportedly at issue in the cases."

The Campbell lawsuit was filed Dec. 30 by Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley, who claimed Facebook violated its users' privacy by using data from private messages to generate targeted advertisements.

In their class action complaint, Campbell and Hurley claim contrary to its representation, "private" Facebook messages are systematically intercepted by the company in an effort to learn the contents of the users' communications.

Campbell and Hurley claim in the course of the last year, independent security researchers discovered that Facebook reviews the contents of its users' private Facebook messages for purposes unrelated to the facilitation of message transmission.

"When a user composes a Facebook message and includes a link to a third part website...the company scans the content of the Facebook message, follows the enclosed link and searches for information to profile the message-sender's web activity," the complaint states.

This practice is not done to facilitate the transmission of users' communications via Facebook, but, because it enables Facebook to mine user data and profit from those data by sharing them with third parties - namely advertisers, marketers and other data aggregators, according to the suit.
Campbell and Hurley claim 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, according to the suit.

On Jan. 21, David Shadpour filed a separate class action in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland, alleging similar facts and asserting the same state law as the Campbell complaint, according to the motion.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California case numbers: 4:13-cv-05996, 5:14-cv-00307

From Legal Newsline: Kyla Asbury can be reached at classactions@legalnewsline.com.

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