Facebook’s long-time culture of “move fast, break things” is coming back to bite it. This year, Facebook has reached at least three major settlements regarding its treatment of users. The two lawsuits making headlines most recently both concern how Facebook tracks its users both on and off the web.
While both concern data tracking, they are very different in their scope and impact. Let’s walk through what each lawsuit is and what it means for Facebook and its users.
The Two Lawsuits
The main difference between the two suits is the type of tracking involved. There is Lundy et al v. Meta Platforms, Inc., which concerns location tracking. Then, there is Davis v. Facebook, where Facebook is accused of tracking users across websites.
Facebook’s primary stream of revenue comes from selling advertisements on its platform. In order to increase the value for media buyers, Facebook uses a number of tracking techniques to push relevant ads to consumers.
That is not the problem. The problem is tracking without permission or in breach of the law. Facebook and Meta are accused of doing both. Beyond that, it can get a little murky.
Let’s break down each lawsuit below.
Lundy et al v. Meta Platforms, Inc
This lawsuit was brought forth by several plaintiffs but bears the name of Brendan Lundy. The plaintiffs in the case accuse Facebook’s parent company, Meta, of tracking users’ IP addresses to collect location data on users without their permission.
Facebook ignored this and collected this data anyway. The data was used to push targeted ads to users based on their locations. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, told Congress that Facebook used this data to, “help advertisers reach people in particular areas.”
Meta reached a settlement with the prosecution for $37.5 million in damages. They have admitted no wrongdoing.
Who Was Impacted?
The courts found that over 70 million U.S. residents had been impacted by the alleged breach of privacy between January 30th, 2015, and April 18th, 2018. Users who turned off their location services, essentially opting out during this time, will be eligible for a portion of the payment.
The settlement has been submitted to the court and is just awaiting the judge’s signature. Facebook has set that a website for class members to apply for payment is “forthcoming.”
Davis v. Facebook
Facebook denies this claim but has admitted to downloading cookies to users’ computers. They claim that they do not share or keep data collected after users log off from the site. Before saying this, Facebook representatives had denied the claim altogether, until an Australian blogger exposed the practice.
This all came in the wake of the highly criticized 2011 F8 conference where Facebook introduced “frictionless sharing.” This was the practice of instantly and automatically sharing users’ information on Facebook. Watching a new movie? It was shared to Facebook. Listening to a new song? Shared to Facebook, without ever even clicking a button.
Today in 2022, we can see why this is a terrible idea, but this is what Facebook was pushing in 2011. This was a major privacy concern for users at the time, and Facebook ultimately scrapped the feature. Still, on the back of that, there was very little goodwill for the growing social media behemoth.
Who Was Impacted?
The settlement covers any Facebook user that visited a non-Facebook site that had a Facebook “Like” button embedded and would be eligible for this payout. Unfortunately, the time to register for this payment has already passed, closing on September 22, 2022.
Before payments are issued, there is a hearing to finalize the settlement on October 27th.
So, those are the two most recent lawsuit settlements that Facebook is on the hook for. Facebook and its parent company, Meta, can’t seem to stay out of trouble and the lack of responsibility taken by executives doesn’t bode well for the future.
Facebook and Meta are important to the landscape of technology, it’s true. The Metaverse could very well be the new norm for how we interreact online. But, while Meta is obsessed with the future, there is still damage that lingers from the past. It will be important to stay vigilant as we enter this new frontier of technology.