LONDON: Meta filed a lawsuit on Thursday against a surveillance company it claims created fake Facebook user accounts to collect people’s data.
According to the filing, Meta alleges that Voyager Labs created more than 38,000 accounts to gather data from over 600,000 Facebook users, including posts, likes, friends lists, photos, comments and information from groups and pages.
“Meta is fighting back against a scraping-for-hire service and filed a legal action against Voyager Labs in federal court in California,” it said in a statement.
“Our lawsuit alleges that Voyager has violated our terms of service against fake accounts and unauthorized and automated scraping,” it said, adding that it was seeking a permanent injunction against the surveillance firm.
Voyager Labs specializes in advanced AI-based software and services used by law enforcement agencies and private companies to obtain information about suspects, among other things.
Meta said Voyage Labs “developed and used proprietary software to launch scraping campaigns” that targeted users across the tech giant’s social media platforms as well as Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Telegram.
Meta said it contacted Voyage Labs in November, requesting the surveillance company to cease any scraping activities on its platforms before removing more than 60,000 Voyager Labs-related Facebook and Instagram profiles and pages.
Mark Zuckerberg’s company has also asked that the court order Voyager Labs to give up its “ill-gotten profits in an amount to be proven at trial.”
The lawsuit follows a 2021 investigation by British newspaper The Guardian that found Voyage Labs had teamed up with the Los Angeles Police Department in 2019.
In the investigation, the surveillance firm was reported to have said it could use social media data to predict who would commit a crime.
According to an internal report obtained by The Guardian, Voyager Labs said it “considered using an Instagram name displaying Arab pride or tweeting about Islam to be signs of potential extremism.”
However, Meta said it uncovered Voyage Labs’ scraping activities, a practice which refers to an automated process of using software to scan a web page and compile information on it, only in July.
Although no direct links between the two cases could be established, Meta said that companies like Voyager “are part of an industry that provides scraping services to anyone, regardless of the users they target and for what purpose, including as a way to profile people for criminal behavior.”
In July, Meta filed two lawsuits against Octopus and Turkish-based individual Ekrem Ates accusing them of carrying out scraping-for-hire services on Instagram.
The latest lawsuit follows a similar case involving LinkedIn and HR data science company hiQ Labs in one of the most heavily litigated scraping cases in recent history.
After six years of litigation, hiQ Labs agreed to pay the Microsoft-owned company $500,000 following a mixed ruling in a California district court in November in which the judge ruled that hiQ Labs had violated the LinkedIn terms of service over data scraping.
The case was observed with particular attention after privacy advocates and experts expressed concern that the outcome would jeopardize the work of journalists and watchdog groups who employ automation technologies to monitor public websites.