Facebook slapped with class-action privacy lawsuit

Social networking firm says 'no merit' to allegations that Facebook mishandled users' private info

A Canadian law firm has filed a class-action lawsuit against Facebook Inc., alleging the social networking company mishandled users' private information and breached their privacy.

Merchant Law Group LLP filed the lawsuit on July 2 in Queen's Bench court in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The law firm, which has class-action lawsuits as a large part of its business, filed the suit on behalf of Donald J. Woligroski, a Winnipeg resident and a registered Facebook user, and other class members for an unspecified amount of damages.

The suit contends that Facebook subjected Woligroski to a breach of privacy and the misappropriation of his personal information. It also alleges that Facebook intentionally used his information for commercial purposes; it calls the company's actions "malicious, deliberate, and oppressive."

"The defendant's acts of deceit and omissions have breached the duty of care it owed to its users and have caused the plaintiffs to suffer injury, economic loss, and damages, which they continue to suffer," the lawsuit states. "Facebook has demonstrated and taken a cavalier and arbitrary approach with respect to its legal obligations to the plaintiff and class members and the methods by which Facebook misrepresented to its profit, its privacy policies and how Facebook would share, use and disseminate the personal information of the plaintiff and class action members."

In a statement e-mailed to Computerworld, Andrew Noyes, a Facebook spokesman said, "We see no merit to this suit and we will fight it vigorously."

This lawsuit adds to Facebook's recent privacy woes.

The social networking company has been hit with increasing criticism from privacy advocates over the past couple of years. The criticism heated up in April after Facebook unveiled a bevy of tools that would allow the sharing of user information with other Web sites. That move caused an uproar among users and prompted a handful of U.S. senators to send an open letter calling on Facebook to amend its privacy policies.

Facebook responded in late May with the release of a set of simpler privacy controls. That move appeared to appease many users who had complained that the earlier controls were too complicated.

And then when it seemed that Facebook's privacy tumult was quieting down, more fuel was added to the fire earlier this month.

Ten privacy groups wrote an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on June 16, asking for changes to the highly popular social networking site that will give users more control over their data. The groups behind the letter include the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Digital Democracy.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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