Meta is taking a law enforcement intelligence company to court for collecting data about users of its Facebook and Instagram properties.
The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in California, alleges that Voyager Labs, an international scraping and monitoring service, improperly collected data from those properties through fake accounts that flouted the terms and conditions for use of the platform. is a violation.
In a January 12 post on Meta’s newsroom site, Jessica Romero, director of Platform Enforcement and Litigation, explained that Voyager’s proprietary software uses fake accounts to scrape data accessible to a user who is logged in to Facebook.
They said Voyager used a diverse system of computers and networks in different countries to hide its activity and thwart Meta’s efforts to verify fake accounts.
Romero wrote that Voyager did not compromise Facebook; Instead, it used fake accounts to scramble publicly viewable information.
“Web scraping is legal — if you’re scraping publicly available information,” observed Liz Miller, vice president and a principal analyst at Constellation Research, a technology research and advisory firm in Cupertino, California.
“In Meta’s case against Voyager Labs, the issue is the creation of a fake Facebook account, which was used for the purpose of data collection,” Miller told TechNewsWorld.
Romero wrote that Meta is seeking a permanent injunction against Voyager to protect people from scraping-for-hire services.
“Companies like Voyager are part of an industry that provides scraping services to anyone, regardless of the target users and for what purpose, which includes profiling people for criminal behavior,” he continued.
“This industry secretly collects information that people share with their community, family and friends, without oversight or accountability, and in a way that can affect people’s civil rights,” she said.
“These services operate across multiple platforms and national borders and preventing the misuse of these capabilities requires a collective effort from platforms, policy makers and civil society.”
Voyager was not immediately available for comment on this story. However, a spokesperson told The Guardian in the past: “As a company, we comply with the laws of all countries in which we do business. We also trust those with whom we do business to comply with the law.” There are public and private organizations that follow.”
Meta Business Matters
While META emphasizes its efforts to protect people, it also has business ideas that need to be protected.
“Sadly, from Meta’s point of view the problem is not really about data scraping. The point is that Voyager did not pay Meta to do this,” KnowBe4, a security awareness training provider in Clearwater, Fla. Roger Grimes, a defense campaigner for the U.S., argued.
“If Voyager had paid, the meta would have been very happy,” Grimes told TechNewsworld.
Vincent Reynolds, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Emerson College in Boston, explained that data is at the heart of the business model for social media companies.
“The data that users produce is reused by these platforms for advertising,” Raynauld told TechNewsWorld. “It’s at the core of their business model.”
“With this lawsuit,” he continued, “they are trying to protect their business model. They want to take control of the data they have and prevent other companies from using the data.”
“When they see researchers or other companies scraping data, they see business opportunities go away,” he said.
Raynauld said, “There is a clear intention by the Meta to protect its assets here.” “It’s a shot across the bow of marketers and researchers.”
common practice, common problem
Scraping social media sites for data is a common practice.
“It is common for social media sites, from Facebook and Instagram to Twitter or LinkedIn, to scrape publicly available and viewable data,” Miller said.
“Advertisers and marketers commonly use it to track trends, target audiences, or create audience profiles,” she continued. “If you’ve ever compared prices on a site so that you can get a product at the best price, you’ve likely benefited from bot-based web scraping.”
Miller said most social scraping is for rather benign uses, but exceptions exist, such as bots deployed for ad fraud, traffic scams, identity takeover and account hacking.
“The scraping is probably much worse than anyone realized, including Meta,” Grimes said. “I’m sure hundreds if not thousands of data scraping operations are targeting social media sites every day.”
“It’s probably so bad,” he continued, “that Meta only has time to worry about the biggest and most revenue-damaging examples.”
Minimizing Unethical Scraping
Grimes said combating shady data scraping is a big problem. “It’s like phishing and password-guessing,” he said. “Vendors can’t hope to stop it. The best they can try to do is identify the easiest and stop the most prominent examples.
Miller said that most social media platforms have placed constraints through their terms and conditions of use to reduce malicious scraping.
“But what many want to subtract is non-malicious scraping, which forces organizations to turn to, for example, Meta, some of the insights that social scraping can provide,” she said.
Romero wrote that meta is one of the tools used to combat scraping. “We have also invested in technical teams and tools that monitor and detect suspicious activity and use unauthorized automation for scraping,” she explained.
“This focus on scraping is part of our ongoing work to protect people’s privacy,” she said. “In the coming months, we plan to discuss some of the other measures we are actively using to prevent scraping.”
Until those additional measures are disclosed to combat malicious scraping, litigation may be the most effective means of cracking down on the practice.
“Being sued is a huge motivator not to do it,” Grimes observed. “Who wants to be sued by a tech giant? You can spend millions for the first day of a court hearing, even if you did nothing wrong and are completely in the right.
“That’s the nature of lawsuits, especially in the US, where the loser often doesn’t have to pay the winner’s fees,” he said.
“Lawsuits are like getting a big hammer when playing whack-a-mole,” Miller said. “You can take one out of the game, but another malicious mole will likely pop back up.”
“But, in the absence of a law or a rule making scraping publicly available data illegal,” she continued, “the goal is to reduce them with litigation costs.”