The kicks just keep getting harder to find for Facebook when it comes to explaining away that sneaky habit of tracking internet users even after they’ve logged out of the site. Today two lawyers in Baltimore became the latest to file a lawsuit against the online social network charging that Facebook spies on Internet browsing habits and violates wiretapping and privacy laws.
If this is starting to sound like second verse same as the first, you couldn’t be faulted for that impression. The Baltimore case stems from last year’s revelation when Nik Cubrilovic discovered that Facebook was still following users’ activity across the internet despite having logged out of the site. A similar lawsuit was filed last year in Mississippi which has now been relocated to California. In both cases, the Baltimore case and the formerly-Mississippi case, the charges levied against Facebook claim it violated wiretapping laws.
Facebook isn’t the only tech company being dragged up to the docket, though, as Google’s feeling the legal ire of internet users as well. Last week, Google fessed up that they had been circumventing privacy settings in Safari and Internet Explorer in order to continue tracking people’s activity on internet. In an attempt to normalize their tracking habits, Google defended itself by citing Facebook’s “Like” button and how it used a similar exploit in browsers to track users’ internet activity. Facebook yawned at Google’s attempt to include them in the public relations firestorm and admitted that the “Like” button did employ the same exploit.
Curiously, Facebook was excluded from the Obama’s Administration’s call for tech companies to provide internet users more fortified options for protecting their privacy. Google, for example, agreed to a “Do Not Track” button for their browser, Chrome, but the same was not expected of Facebook and their “Like” button. Such an omission from the federal government might prove to be a valuable inoculation against legal charges that Facebook when it faces charges of violating people’s privacy.
Of course, three plaintiffs in two cases a class action suit does not make. The legality problems of Facebook possibly breaking wiretapping laws are in its snowball infancy; it still has a way to go before it becomes a full-out avalanche. However, if more lawsuits continue to pour forth against Facebook’s info-tracking, or if even it so happens that one judge rules in the favor of the plaintiffs in these current lawsuits, Facebook’s habits may be forced to change. Worse, more lawsuits could be brought against the company once a legal precedent has been established.
I’m no legal Sherlock and so I can only affirm the verity of this idea as speculation. But in the event that further lawsuits are thrown at Facebook – charges of wiretapping, even! – the eventuality of collective public legal action against the online social network can’t be completely eschewed from the pallet of possibility.