Facebook Scans Personal Messages for Ad Data

Turns out Facebook isn’t simply content with scanning our profiles for copyrighted material or making a detailed treasure map out of all the movements our mouse makes… now they want whatever we’ve got tucked away in our inboxes too.

A suit filed today at the Superior Court of California accuses Facebook of actively mining private messages for advertising information and metadata, instead of only known spam links like their Terms of Service suggests. Weirder still, it seems the bot responsible for this endeavor was tasked with actively clicking any URLs that appeared in a message, and if the page had a button to “like it” on Facebook, it would automatically tick it off without you personally getting a say in how your identity is attached to a particular place or product for a lifetime.

I first noticed this phenomena on my own page just the other week; I had been talking about going go-karting with a friend of mine, and trying to get a night together to make it happen. No longer than the very next morning, my feed was filled with Groupon offers for “K1 Speed in Santa Clara”, which my friend and I both knew wasn’t even worth the discounted price.

But whether I “liked it” or not, for the next few days the second item on my stream was a bunch of people driving around in slow, unexciting electric go karts that neither of us wanted anything to do with. I just say the words ‘go-kart’, and this is what I get — my own life being advertised right back at me within 24 hours or less. Another night I was discussing eating sushi with another friend, and suddenly my Groupon changed to all the places I could find some in an umpteen square mile radius of a place I used to live and haven’t even updated because I don’t use the service anymore.

These are just a few anecdotal recollections, but make no mistake, the Wall Street Journal doesn’t rattle the cages of big business unless it thinks it absolutely has to. What Facebook is doing is taking the very content of our communications and using it to market back to us. Millions of people around the world use Facebook to communicate with one another daily, to imagine there is something out there learning how to take all that in and spit in back out in the form of an annoying advertisement, that even raises the bar on some of the scummiest NSA schemes this side of 2013.

The plaintiffs in the case, Michael Hurley and Matthe Campbell, have filed a class action lawsuit against the sultan of social media, accusing them of something pretty much everyone seems guilty of in one way or another these days: violating the 4th Amendment and overstepping a couple others on the list just because they could.

The irony of course, is that even though the spokesman for Facebook has told reporters that “no private information has been exposed”, the leaks from Snowden would quickly prove the government probably knows everything they do and more  now that it’s been stored in a server on U.S soil. The companies who stockpile this stuff aren’t thinking about what they’re giving up to government spies. It’s believed that the NSA and GCHQ have infiltrated top tech companies from all sides, tapping their cables, planting undercover agents, and even penetrating top leadership in security departments responsible for building the walls that are supposed keep the rest of the world out.

If you think Facebook can still be trusted with the content of your everyday life, just remember — they made $2.7 billion last year in targeted ad sales, and their main server farm is in a desert in Oregon. Personally this was the last straw for me. I’ll be limiting my time on Facebook, with most of it spent converting as many people as I can over to Syme, a new encrypted social network that doesn’t read your messages.

That should be their slogan, I think.

“Syme: We don’t read your private messages to friends and family.”