Facebook Users Can’t Sue as Group Over Advertisers’ Data Use

  • Social network accused of giving advertisers personal data
  • Judge rules Facebook users too diverse for class action

Facebook Inc. defeated a bid for a group lawsuit claiming the company illegally gave its users’ personal information to advertisers, with a judge ruling the plaintiffs didn’t have enough in common to pursue a class action.

Facebook users accused the social network of “automatically and surreptitiously” disclosing to advertisers information about them when they clicked on ads. They said that information included how they were using the website, which was “contrary to Facebook’s explicit privacy promises.”

U.S. District Judge Ronald M. Whyte in San Jose, California, had thrown out the case in 2011. An appeals court reversed the judge, returning the case to the lower court to proceed on breach-of-contract and fraud claims. Whyte on Friday made public a partially redacted ruling he issued in June concluding that the lawsuit contained too many "individualized questions" to go forward as a class action.

Privacy lawsuits against Facebook and other Internet companies have failed in large part because plaintiffs haven’t been able to show how disclosures to third parties harmed them. Where such cases have moved forward, the companies have won rulings at later stages preventing them from advancing as group suits.

In June, Whyte rejected Facebook’s renewed bid to dismiss the case, agreeing that a remaining plaintiff might be able to prove she didn’t receive the confidentiality Facebook promised. While the judge expressed skepticism about how the woman would prove the value of the "benefit" of her confidentiality, he ruled that she had fairly alleged she "received less than she bargained for from Facebook."

Facebook spokeswoman Vanessa Chan and Kassra Nassiri, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, didn’t immediately respond to e-mails Friday seeking comment on the ruling.

The case is In Re. Facebook Privacy Litigation, 10-cv-02389, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).

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