Facebook accused of conducting mass surveillance through its apps

Facebook used its apps to gather information about users and their friends, including some who had not signed up to the social network, reading their text messages, tracking their locations and accessing photos on their phones, a court case in California alleges.

The claims of what would amount to mass surveillance are part of a lawsuit brought against the company by the former startup Six4Three, listed in legal documents filed at the superior court in San Mateo as part of a court case that has been ongoing for more than two years.

It alleges that Facebook used a range of methods, some adapted to the different phones that users carried, to collect information it could use for commercial purposes.

“Facebook continued to explore and implement ways to track users’ location, to track and read their texts, to access and record their microphones on their phones, to track and monitor their usage of competitive apps on their phones, and to track and monitor their calls,” one court document says.

But all details about the mass surveillance scheme have been redacted on Facebook’s request in Six4Three’s most recent filings. Facebook claims these are confidential business matters.

Other alleged projects included one to remotely activate Bluetooth, allowing the company to pinpoint a user’s location without them explicitly agreeing to it. Another involved the development of privacy settings with an early end date that was not flagged to users, letting them expire without notice, the court documents claim.

Facebook admitted recently that it had collected call and text message data from users, but said it only did so with prior consent. However the Guardian has reported that it logged some messages without explicitly notifying users. The company could not see text messages for iPhone users but could access any photos taken on a phone or stored on the built-in “camera roll” archive system, the court case alleged. It has not disclosed how they were analysed.

Facebook has not fully disclosed the manner in which it pre-processes photos on the iOS camera roll, meaning if a user has any Facebook app installed on their iPhone, then Facebook accesses and analyses the photos the user takes and/or stores on the iPhone, the complainant alleges.

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