Archive for Thursday, October 6, 2011

Leawood man sues Facebook over privacy issues

October 6, 2011


— A Facebook user in Kansas has filed a federal lawsuit against the social networking giant, claiming it violated wiretap laws with a tracking cookie that records web browsing history after logging off of Facebook.

John Graham, a 42-year-old Leawood lawyer, is the named plaintiff in the lawsuit filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Kansas. His suit seeks class action status for the 150 million users of Facebook in the United States. Graham referred all comment to his attorneys, who declined to comment on the filing.

Experts say the Kansas litigation faces an uphill battle since courts in the past have tossed out similar cases against Facebook and others filed under wiretap law, finding such computer cookies are not wiretaps. In those cases that do end up being litigated the plaintiffs typically lose because they cannot prove any harm.

Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for Facebook, said the firm was not commenting on the lawsuit at this time.

But when the controversy over the cookies was initially raised, the company issued a statement saying there was no security or privacy breach and Facebook did not store or use any information it should not have. Like every site on the Internet that personalizes content and tries to provide security for its user, Facebook places cookies on the computer of the user, it said.

"Three of these cookies on some users' computers inadvertently included unique identifiers when the user had logged out of Facebook," according to the statement. "However, we did not store these identifiers for logged out users. Therefore, we could not have used this information for tracking or any other purpose."

Graham asks the federal court to decide whether the interception was intentional, the extent of communications intercepted and stored, and whether the court should prohibit Facebook from intercepting such communications when a user is not logged in.

"The case raises important questions that the court should consider," said David Jacobs, a consumer advocacy fellow for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The lawsuit filed in Kansas is similar to another case filed last week in California arising out of the revelation that Facebook placed cookies on the browsers of its users that traced their Internet activity even when they were not logged into Facebook, Jacobs said.

Both lawsuits seek to certify as its class the 150 million users of Facebook in the United States. Both were filed under a provision of the federal Wiretap Act which prohibits interception of wire, oral or electronic communications, Jacobs wrote in an email. The Kansas lawsuit differs in that it also alleges several state law claims, including violation of the Kansas Consumer Protection Act.

Nine privacy groups — including the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the American Civil Liberties Union — sent a joint letter last week to the Federal Trade Commission saying it should investigate the ways Facebook collects data about users' online activity after recent changes to its site.

Jules Polonetsky, former privacy officer at AOL and now director of the Future of Privacy Forum think tank, said in a telephone interview that for quite some time companies have settled such lawsuits, but a number have been litigated recently — with the courts generally finding that the wiretapping law is not applicable to online tracking cases.

"The courts have in the past year turned back class actions that focused on wiretapping or some of the other causes raised on the grounds that the wiretapping don't apply and, number two, there was no harm," Polonetsky said.

Graham's lawsuit seeks a preliminary and temporary injunction restraining Facebook from intercepting electronic information when they are not logged in and from disclosing any of the information already acquired on its servers. It also seeks statutory damages of $100 per day for each of the class members or $10,000 per violation, punitive damages along with attorney fees and court costs.


Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 6 months ago

Anybody that goes on an internet site and places personal information for all to see ought to know that he is vulnerable to all sorts of "hacking", harvesting of e-mails, spam and God-knows-what-all. Despite all the righteous claims and statements, none of the stuff you put out on the internet, on your plastic toy phone, on your laptop, or any other electronic fruit (pods or berries) is "secure".

I do very little business on line and my bank account and credit card have both been attacked, some game company got my bank account number and I found a charge from St Petersburg, Russia on my credit card (never been there or bought anything on ebay from there). To add to that, these "networking sites", Google, Facebook, Tweeter, etc leave garbage on your computer, spyware, malware, and cookies. It is the age of the computer and if you are not aware and careful, you can find a truckload of Souh American bat guano on your yard.

This guy is way off his rocker if he thinks that ANY internet site is protecting his data, these internet sites are out there to gather up prospective customers with their spam and other garbage.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

The question is about Facebook "cookies" that continue to track individual behavior after the user is no longer on Facebook.

Seems like a real issue to me.

bevy 6 years, 6 months ago

So the answer is "you deserve this if you use online services?" I'm sorry, but I do not see this as a non-issue. Unless they are notifying users up-front that they are going to continue tracking their activities after logoff, they are nothing better than purveyors of spyware. I hope this case goes to court, at least.

kernal 6 years, 6 months ago

Now hold on, kiddies. This case does raise important questions and issues about the future of the internet and intrusion on the privacy of users. Someday soon they will need to be addressed so we don't have to face the real possibility of internet censorship in the future.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 6 months ago

That is absolutely true. For instance, when the telephone was first coming into common use, there was no law against anyone listening into whatever calls they wanted to.

And before that, the telegraph system had the same problem.

Even earlier, the postal service needed protections also.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 6 months ago

The answer is simple. Don' use the internet.

This country has survived since it's creation in 1776 without electronic social networking, ebay, google, tweeter, facebook, various "hot" sites, cnn, etc.

Then Al Gore invented the internet and everyone has gone gaga over it.

I do not remember any stated guarantees about just how your personal information would be protected when you broadcast it over either wired internet connections or the more popular modern "wireless" gadgets.

Live with it.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 6 months ago

Hey, Math, if you have ever read most any of my posts on this forum, you will know that I am certainly no right-wingnut. I am a dedicated observer of the political spectrum of both directions and most of my posts are tirades against various right-wingnuts like Governer Glory Hal Lay Lou Yah, Governer Hair, Rush Bimbo, and their ilk.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 6 months ago

This is all clipped from:

According to Vincent Cerf, a senior vice president with MCI Worldcom who's been called the Father of the Internet, "The Internet would not be where it is in the United States without the strong support given to it and related research areas by the Vice President in his current role and in his earlier role as Senator."

The inventor of the Mosaic Browser, Marc Andreesen, credits Gore with making his work possible. He received a federal grant through Gore's High Performance Computing Act. The University of Pennsylvania's Dave Ferber says that without Gore the Internet "would not be where it is today."

Joseph E. Traub, a computer science professor at Columbia University, claims that Gore "was perhaps the first political leader to grasp the importance of networking the country. Could we perhaps see an end to cheap shots from politicians and pundits about inventing the Internet?"

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 6 months ago

I certainly do remember seeing very clearly worded warnings that if I filled out these forms, google and other search engines would collect and transmit to any web searcher all of the information I gave them.

So, I went ahead and gave them all of the information they wanted. But I was a special case, for most people putting personal information online is a very bad idea.

begin60 6 years, 6 months ago

We need updated electronic privacy laws. Facebook is getting worse and worse about sharing user information with third parties and non-friends. All the time I visit news sites only to find myself recorded as having shared articles I merely "liked" from a friend or networker's newsfeed. That's dishonest.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 6 months ago

One time I was rather shocked when I used to look up some information relevant to my trivial hobby of keeping tropical fish in aquariums. Right there, on a website that I had never heard of, was a posting I had made on Facebook about tropical fish, and it was complete with my name!

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 6 months ago

It has always been an historical problem for the laws to keep up with our medical or technological advances. The problem is that sociology rarely keeps up with our knowledge base and new technology.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

It's also a problem with our ethical development, which seems to lag behind those as well.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 6 months ago

No, he didn't get mad. He's surely taking this case on a contingency fee, which means he gets a cut of the damages awarded. And it's usually a very large cut, like 30%.

So, when a jury decides to award a large sum of money to a plaintiff in many legal cases in the United States, they have just handed the lawyers a whole lot of money. The injured party sees only a fraction of the damages awarded.

The practice of contingency fees is illegal in Great Briton. As a direct result of that, they don't have nearly the problem of clogging up of the legal system with frivolous cases as we do.

In this case, the potential payoff of the contingency fee if the lawyers win this case is so enormous that it's worth taking, although the chances of winning appear to be quite small.

whats_going_on 6 years, 6 months ago

now I want to know what he doesn't want anyone to somehow all of HIS information, and his alone, is going to be broadcast all over the place.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 6 months ago

So you want some information on John Graham, Leawood, Kansas, 42 years old? Just do a web search on him!|58|172|1|locate%20people|7451624700|b

This is the one to use, it's free:

This is another good one, it's free:

He's not in the military, but if he was, this would be the one to use:

That should be enough to get you started.

Obviously, there is not much privacy in our digital age.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 6 months ago

I forgot You can use it, but if you do you will learn that he is known for only one thing: Suing Facebook.

Jeez, I outrate him by miles!

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 6 months ago

'Money', from the 1972 film 'Cabaret' - performed by Liza Minnelli & Joel Grey

Phone_Man 6 years, 6 months ago

No form of communications is safe. If you were to check your bank account or any other account via telephone I could have your account number and password in seconds. If you do any business with a live person over the phone I could still have user names passwords and any other information needed to gain access to your accounts. The only safe way to conduct business is in person. The internet has gained such notoriety because it is the most used now days. in both cases all you need are a few things from radio shack and home depot.

cthulhu_4_president 6 years, 6 months ago

"The only safe way to conduct business is in person."

Because no one was ever scammed, cheated, swindled or robbed in the pre-internet world during a personal business transaction? No one has ever had their credit card # lifted by a server? Door to door salesmen are completely honest, and their products are worth every penny?

I never knew!!

cthulhu_4_president 6 years, 6 months ago

"The only safe way to conduct business is in person."

Because no one was ever scammed, cheated, swindled or robbed in the pre-internet world during a personal business transaction? No one has ever had their credit card # lifted by a server? Door to door salesmen are completely honest, and their products are worth every penny?

I never knew!!

Phone_Man 6 years, 6 months ago

All I can say Is I have never been scammed over the phone internet OR in person. However I'm very careful how and who I conduct business with. Your sarcasm is sad and I feel sorry for you if you don't or can't get what I'm saying!

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