Facebook Privacy in Spotlight as Lawsuits Mount

Facebook Privacy in Spotlight as Lawsuits Mount

A flaw in Facebook’s security policy has triggered a series of lawsuits nationwide, drawing further attention to how the social media giant treats its users.

A class action lawsuit filed by two Maryland firms alleges Facebook tracked Internet activity of its users around the clock, monitoring what sites users visit even after they log off, in violation of state and federal laws as well as the social network’s own privacy policy.

The suit follows actions from other states, including Facebook’s home state of California.

Facebook’s nearly 800 million members make it a lucrative place for advertisers to go for business. Gathering information about its users could help individualize ads, but if users feel the practice threatens privacy, Facebook may have to find new ways to target advertising, which may crimp the network’s revenue plans as it goes public.

The lawsuits also come at a critical time when issues beyond tracking, like the basic security of user information are gaining momentum, at the same time Facebook is preparing to go public.

Facebook’s privacy breach, which embedded tracking cookies after users logged off from Facebook, became a public issue after an Australian blogger discovered it the September. Facebook used the information in third-party sales, and though the company pledged to fix the issue and remedied the post log-out data tracking, users affected by the breach are now filing lawsuits in multiple jurisdictions.

The company says it will fight the suit, and believes it is without merit, according to several sources.

Facebook’s practice of selling off phone numbers and emails also drew attention from federal lawmakers, and as the company prepares to go public as an IPO, more attention will focus on how the free social media service treats its users. Facebook’s reputation is at stake, and an untrustworthy reputation could damage its image.

Users with concerns about how much Facebook tracking could find recourse in the pending civil suits. And as the lawsuits reach a conclusion, the verdicts will likely set a precedent for how much a free service can watch its users without their permission when it comes to private data.

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