Federal Court Rejects Facebook, Zynga Privacy Lawsuit Appeals

The 9th Circuit Appeals Court declined to review a case that involved claims that Zynga and Facebook violated users' privacy by disclosing their confidential information to advertisers and other third parties. A three-judge panel in San Francisco upheld U.S. District Judge James Ware's dismissal of class actions against Facebook and Zynga.

In the original cases plaintiffs claimed that clicking on an ad or icon in Facebook, their web browsers called up the page using a "referrer" header. This header includes the user's Facebook ID and the address of the Facebook page the user was viewing when he or she clicked the link. Plaintiffs in the cases said this violated the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act and Stored Communications Act, as well as California's consumer and computer fraud statutes. In the two separate lawsuits, Zynga and Facebook users accused the companies of collecting the information contained in the headers and disclosing it to advertisers and other third parties.

Judge Ware dismissed both lawsuits on the same day in 2011, saying that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim under federal law.

"In order for the plaintiffs to state a claim under the Wiretap Act and Stored Communications Act, they must plausibly allege that Facebook and Zynga divulged the 'contents' of a communication," Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote in the 22-page ruling. "Because information disclosed in the referrer headers at issue here is not the contents of a communication as defined in ECPA, the plaintiffs cannot state a claim under those statutes." Ikuta noted that divulging a user's specific search query, for example, could run afoul of federal law "under some circumstances."

"But the referrer header information at issue here includes only basic identification and address information, not a search term or similar communication made by the user, and therefore does not constitute the contents of a communication," she wrote. Facebook has since stripped the referrer headers of users' private data.

You can read the ruling here (PDF).

Source: Courthouse News

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