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Meta settles lawsuit for ‘significant’ sum against companies that scrape data from Facebook and Instagram

Parent Facebook Meta has settled a lawsuit in the United States against two companies that had engaged in data scraping operations, which saw them collect data from Facebook and Instagram users for marketing intelligence purposes, according to the initial complaint filed in October 2020. The companies named in the lawsuit, BrandTotal Ltd. Israel-based and Delaware-based Unimania Inc. agreed to a permanent injunction prohibiting them from deleting data from Facebook and Instagram in the future or profiting from the data they collected. They also agreed to pay a “significant financial sum” as part of their settlement, Meta said.

Meta, however, refused to disclose the amount paid, and the documents filed with the court did not specify the amount.

According to BrandTotal’s website, his company offered a real-time competitive intelligence platform designed to give media, news and analytics teams visibility into their competitors’ social media strategy and paid campaigns. . This information would allow its clients to analyze and modify their budget allocation to target new opportunities, monitor emerging brand trends and threats, optimize their advertisements and messaging, and more.

Meanwhile, Unimania operated apps claiming to offer users the ability to access social media in different ways. For example, Unimania offered apps that let you view Facebook through a mobile web interface or alongside other social networks like Twitter. Another app lets you view Instagram stories anonymously, she claimed.

Together, the two companies have developed and distributed products under the UpVoice, Social One, Phoenix, Anonymous Story Viewer, Story Savebox, Calix and Restricted Panel brands.

The original complaint had specifically called two browser extensions offered by the companies: “Ads Feed” from Unimania and “UpVoice” from BrandTotal. The former had allowed users to save advertisements they had seen on Facebook for later reference, but had also opted users into a panel that informed the advertising decisions of Unimania’s corporate clients. UpVote had rewarded users with gift cards for sharing their opinions on the brands’ online campaigns.

According to the filing that details the proposed settlement, the two companies have agreed to cease scraping or assisting others in data collection practices, to remove their software and code, and have agreed to prohibit the distribution or sale of all the data they have collected in the course of their operations, among others. . He also notes that they agreed to pay damages in a confidential settlement.

The district court hearing the case ruled in summary judgment earlier this year that BrandTotal did “not violate the CFAA”, or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which governs what constitutes hacking under US federal law.

The decision came weeks after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed that web scraping is legal under the CFAA after the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, but the Ninth Circuit did not rule on whether scraping could violate a company’s terms of service or others contractual agreements.

But in its summary judgment, the district court found that BrandTotal had failed to demonstrate that Facebook’s terms of service were unenforceable.

The case is one of many filed by Meta and designed to support data recovery operations, including and following a settlement in 2020 with the Massroot8 scraping service. This year, the company also filed a complaint against a clone site operator and a company called Octopus, an American subsidiary of a national Chinese high-tech company who had offered scraping services.

Meta last year revealed it had a dedicated team more than 100 people dedicated to detecting, blocking and deterring scratching. And, in a year, he said it taken more than 300 enforcement actions against data harvesting and other platform abuse.

However, the issue may still threaten user privacy. One April 2021 report revealed that the personal data of 533 million Facebook users had been leaked online, via web scraping operations; Meta expanded its Bug Bounty program to combat scraping. More recently, it changed the way Facebook IDs (FBIDs) are used to make unauthorized scraping technically more difficult.