Judge kills Facebook's bid to dismiss private message sniffing case

Users will get their day in court

A California judge has turned down Facebook's motion to dismiss a class-action suit against the company from users who are aggrieved that the social network was truffling through their private messages for advertising purposes.

Facebook users Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley filed the suit 12 months ago claiming that the Valley giant was scanning private messages and assigning 'Likes' to companies if they were mentioned. They argue that their privacy has been infringed by the action.

The practice was accidentally discovered by two sets of security researchers investigating Facebook's business practices and the lawsuit was launched a few months afterwards.

Another plaintiff, David Shadpour, has since joined the case and the trio are demanding $10,000 apiece from Zuck & Co, and asked that all Facebook users who have had their messages scanned get the same.

Facebook has described the case as "without merit," and argued in court that it had he right to scan messages under its terms and conditions. It has said that it has stopped the practice for more than two years and asked that the case be dismissed.

US District Judge Phyllis Hamilton disagreed in an Oakland Court on Tuesday. She said the hearings should go ahead, saying that Facebook hadn't proved its case yet.

"Facebook's unwillingness to offer any details regarding its targeted advertising practice prevents the court from being able to determine whether the specific practice challenged in this case should be considered 'ordinary,' she wrote in her judgment [PDF].

But she did agree to drop some of the charges, saying that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that they had suffered any property damage (since messages aren't viewed as 'property' under California law) and that the messages could not be regarded as confidential.

The case will continue in the New Year. ®

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