Meta sues ‘scraping-for-hire’ service that sells user data to law enforcement

Dark web monitoring and invisible internet monitoring as personal information on the hidden web as an online scan in a 3D illustration style.

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Meta said it was suing Voyager Labs, a “scraping-for-hire” service, for allegedly using fake accounts, proprietary software and a sprawling network of IP addresses to surreptitiously harvest huge amounts of personal data from users. users of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social networks. networking websites.

“Defendant created and used over 38,000 fake Facebook user accounts and its monitoring software to retrieve the visible profile information of over 600,000 Facebook users, including posts, likes, lists of friends, photos and comments, as well as information from Facebook groups and pages,” the attorneys said. wrote in Meta’s complaint. “Defendant designed the surveillance software to conceal its presence and activity from Meta and others, and sold and licensed for profit the data it retrieved.”

“Highlighting Individuality”

Among the California-based Facebook users whose data was removed, Meta said, were “employees at nonprofits, universities, news organizations, health care facilities, of the United States Armed Forces and local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as full-time parents, retirees, and union members. Meta said that collecting data and using fake accounts violates its Terms of use.

Voyager Labs, headquartered in Israel, markets itself as an “AI-powered surveys” service that collects data from “billions of ‘human pixels’ and signals” and uses artificial intelligence to map relationships, track geographic locations and provide other personal data to “agencies”. responsible for public security. »

“By leveraging this vast ocean of data, they can gain actionable insights into individuals, groups, and topics, then dive deep to uncover even more,” company officials wrote in marketing materials. attached to the Meta Complaint. The tagline on Voyager Labs letterhead is: “Spotlight on Individuality”.

In one case, the service used Facebook posts to identify the full names of an Italian marathon runner and his wife who had been infected with COVID-19. The service then provided a list of friends and people who had interacted with the runner. In a different case, Voyager Labs identified patrons of a British pub who may have contracted the deadly virus.

Among Voyager Labs’ clients, according to the exhibits, is the Los Angeles Police Department. Testimony provided by a member of the department stated that Voyager Labs was “able to identify a few new targets in a much easier to read format” and was “able to process warrant returns much faster, which was much more easy to read”.

Images from some of the exhibits are in the gallery below:

Meta seeks a permanent injunction that would prevent Voyager Labs from continuing the practice.

In the lawsuit announcement, Jessica Romero, Meta Director of Platform Enforcement and Litigation, wrote:

Voyager developed and used proprietary software to launch scraping campaigns against Facebook and Instagram, and websites such as Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Telegram. Voyager designed its scraping software to use fake accounts to scrape data accessible to a user while logged into Facebook, including user profile information, posts, friend lists, photos and comments. Voyager used a diverse system of computers and networks in different countries to hide its activity, including when Meta ran the fake accounts through checks or checks. Voyager did not compromise Facebook, but rather used fake accounts to retrieve publicly available information.

Our lawsuit alleges that Voyager violated our Terms of Service against fake accounts and unauthorized, automated scraping. We are seeking a permanent injunction against Voyager to protect people from scraping services. Companies like Voyager are part of an industry that provides scraping services to anyone, no matter what users they target and for what purpose, including as a way to profile people for criminal behavior. This industry secretly collects information that people share with their community, family, and friends, without oversight or accountability, and in ways that may implicate people’s civil rights.

Representatives for Voyager Labs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit is at least the second time Meta has filed a lawsuit over alleged data scraping on its platform. In July, the company sued Octopus, a US subsidiary of a national Chinese tech company that allegedly offered to take down any website, and sued a Turkey-based individual, defendant Ekrem Ateş, for allegedly used Instagram accounts to delete data from the profiles of more than 350,000 users of this platform.

Not that Meta has completely clean hands when it comes to unwanted scratching. In 2018, several Facebook users who had switched to contact sharing were shocked to find that the company had collected years of phone call metadata from their Android phones. The data included names, phone numbers and duration of each call made or received. Facebook denied that the data was surreptitiously collected.

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