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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Class action alleges Facebook wrongfully mined cancer websites

By Jessica Karmasek | Mar 29, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) - Facebook wrongfully mined private health data off the websites of major cancer institutes, a proposed class action lawsuit alleges.

Winston Smith, a Missouri resident and registered Facebook user, filed his lawsuit against the popular social media website in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California March 15.

The other named defendants on the class action complaint are: the American Cancer Society Inc., American Society of Clinical Oncology Inc., Melanoma Research Foundation, Adventist Health System, BJC Healthcare, the Cleveland Clinic, and the University of Texas-MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Smith alleges in his 88-page complaint that the medical institutes’ websites include a secret “Facebook code” that allow users’ data to be transmitted to Facebook, which then creates targeted advertising campaigns.

“Without the knowledge, consent, or any action of the user, the entire process happens in milliseconds,” Smith alleges in his complaint.

The social media giant earns revenue primarily through targeted advertising based on “digital dossiers” it builds on each of its users from tracking those users’ communications across the Internet.

In 2014, Facebook earned nearly $11.5 billion from such advertising, according to Smith’s lawsuit.

Smith, himself, had searched for information on lung cancer at the American Cancer Society’s website, Cancer.org. The information he sought and any links he clicked then were sent to Facebook without him knowing, and without his consent, he alleges.

“Despite Cancer.org’s Privacy Policy, the Plaintiff’s communications to and from Cancer.org were contemporaneously re-directed to, tracked, intercepted, and acquired by Facebook through the process described above,” he wrote. “Upon these and other communications, Plaintiff’s cancer-related communications were disclosed to, tracked, and intercepted by Facebook through cookies and other identifiers.”

Smith says users of such websites “trust” that they will not share the personal details of their cancer-related searches and browsing with third-parties.

He also notes that Facebook, itself, does not disclose in its data and privacy policies that it tracks and collects such “sensitive information.”

Facebook has said the lawsuit is without merit, and it plans to defend itself “vigorously.”

Smith is being represented by Beverly Hills class action firm Kiesel Law LLP, among others.

The case has been assigned to Judge Nathanael Cousins.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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Organizations in this Story

Adventist Health System American Cancer Society - Ohio

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