Facebook takes legal action over data scraping on its platforms

19 Jun 2020

Image: © prima91/Stock.adobe.com

Lawsuits have been filed in Europe and the US over the unauthorised scraping of Facebook platforms for personal data and the use of automation to gather likes.

Facebook is attempting to clamp down on those creating and using automated tools that put users of its platforms at risk of data theft or manipulation. In a blog post, the company’s director of platform enforcement and litigation, Jessica Romero, said that Facebook has filed separate lawsuits in the US and Europe regarding the use of unauthorised automation software on Facebook and Instagram.

In the US, Facebook has accused Mohammad Zaghar of operating a data scraping service called Massroot8 from San Francisco. Users were asked to provide Facebook login details on the Massroot8 website, Romero said.

These credentials were allegedly used to scrape user data from Facebook, using a computer program to control a network of bots that pretended to be an Android device connected to the Facebook app. Facebook said that the defendant continued to scrape user data after he was sent a cease and desist letter and after his accounts were disabled.

Coordinated, multi-jurisdictional litigation

In Europe, Facebook has also sued MGP25 Cyberint Services and its founder in the commercial court of Madrid for allegedly providing automation software to distribute fake likes and comments on Instagram.

“The defendant’s service was designed to evade Instagram’s restrictions against fake engagement by mimicking the official Instagram app in the way that it connected to our systems,” Romero wrote.

“The defendants did this for profit, and continued to do so even after we sent a cease and desist letter and disabled their accounts.”

Romero said this is the one of the first times a social media company has used coordinated, multi-jurisdictional litigation to enforce its terms and protect users.

Last month, the company said it will increasingly be using AI and automation to help moderate its platforms, particularly in relation to Covid-19 misinformation and abusive advertising content.

“Going forward, we plan to leverage technology to also take action on content, including removing more posts automatically,” Facebook said at the time. “This will enable our content reviewers to focus their time on other types of content where more nuance and context are needed to make a decision.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic