The nation’s biggest tech firms have been largely permitted to grow without significant regulations in recent years despite concerns among many critics of their increasingly intrusive behavior.
In a surprising move on Monday, however, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a clear blow to Facebook, shooting down an appeal and thus advancing a $15 billion class-action lawsuit against the social media giant.
Details of the complaint
As litigants in the case argue, Facebook illegally wiretapped users when they were not actively using the platform.
Like other Silicon Valley behemoths, the company has come under mounting scrutiny for gathering troves of personal data about its billions of users, raking in tremendous profits from targeted advertisement.
For its part, Facebook attempted to put a benign spin on the practice by asserting that its algorithm protects privacy and that targeted ads actually improve user experience.
While most users might be familiar with the practice of snooping on its users, the company is also accused of employing similar methods on individuals even when they are not actively using the site.
As a result, Facebook is accused of breaking the federal Wiretap Act by using plugins including “like” and “share” buttons on third-party websites to gather information. The alleged wiretapping occurred between April 2010 and September 2011 but has since stopped, according to court records.
“Not an uninvited interloper”
Four California plaintiffs are nonetheless seeking damages by claiming that the company sold their data without their consent.
The nation’s highest court weighed in this week by denying an appeal from Facebook after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals brought the case last year. A federal court previously dismissed the case in 2017.
“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,” the circuit court determined.
The company insists that it is not liable since the inclusion of plugins on third-party sites means that it is not an outside party, arguing: “Facebook was not an uninvited interloper to a communication between two separate parties; it was a direct participant.”
This court action marks the latest legal controversy to surround Facebook as Big Tech firms face mounting public scrutiny over privacy concerns — not to mention apparent connections to Democratic officials and increasingly brazen attempts to censor certain types of speech.