Meta sues law enforcement data scraper Voyager Labs
Meta is suing a law enforcement intelligence firm for collecting user data from its Facebook and Instagram properties.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in California, alleges that Voyager Labs, an international scraping and monitoring service, improperly collected data from these properties through fake accounts, which violates the terms and conditions of use of platforms.
In a January 12 post on Meta’s newsroom site, the platform’s director of enforcement and litigation, Jessica Romero, explained that Voyager’s proprietary software uses fake accounts to retrieve data. data accessible to a user connected to Facebook.
She added that Voyager used a diverse system of computers and networks in different countries to hide its activity and thwart Meta’s attempts to verify fake accounts.
Romero wrote that Voyager did not compromise Facebook; instead, he used fake accounts to retrieve publicly available information.
“Web scraping is legal — if you scrape publicly available information,” observed Liz Miller, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, a technology research and consulting firm in Cupertino, Calif.
“In the case of Meta vs. Voyager Labs, the problem is the creation of fake Facebook accounts that were used for data collection purposes,” Miller told TechNewsWorld.
Romero wrote that Meta was seeking a permanent injunction against Voyager to protect people from scratch-for-hire 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” , she continued.
“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,” she noted.
“These services operate across many platforms and national borders and require a collective effort from platforms, policymakers and civil society to deter abuse of these capabilities,” she added.
Voyager was not immediately available to comment on this story. However, a spokesperson told the Guardian in the past: “As a business, we follow the laws of all the countries in which we do business. We also believe that those with whom we do business are law-abiding public and private organizations.
Meta Business Considerations
Although Meta has emphasized its efforts to protect people, it also has business considerations that must be protected.
“Unfortunately, the problem from Meta’s perspective isn’t really about data scraping. It’s that Voyager didn’t pay Meta to do it,” said Roger Grimes, a defense evangelist with KnowBe4. , a security awareness training provider in Clearwater, Florida.
“If Voyager had paid, Meta would have been very happy,” Grimes told TechNewsWorld.
Vincent Raynauld, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Emerson College in Boston, explained that data is central to the business model of social media companies.
“Data generated by users is reused by these platforms for advertising,” Raynauld told TechNewsWorld. “It’s core to their business models.”
“With this lawsuit,” he continued, “they are trying to protect their business model. They want to keep control of the data they have and prevent other companies from using it. »
“When they see researchers or other companies extracting data, they see business opportunities disappear,” he said.
“There is a clear intention here by Meta to protect its assets,” Raynauld added. “It’s a shot across the arc of marketers and researchers.”
Common practice, common problem
Scraping social media sites for data is common practice.
“It’s common to fetch publicly available, searchable data from social media sites from Facebook and Instagram to Twitter or LinkedIn,” Miller said.
“Advertisers and marketers commonly use it to track trends, target audiences, or build audience profiles,” she continued. “If you’ve ever compared prices on a site to get a product at the best price, you’ve probably benefited from bot-based web scraping.”
Miller added that most social scrapings are for fairly benign uses, but exceptions exist, such as bots deployed for ad fraud, traffic scams, identity theft and account takeover.
“Scratching is probably a lot worse than anyone realizes, including Meta,” Grimes said. “I’m sure hundreds, if not thousands, of data recovery operations target social media sites every day.”
“It’s probably so bad,” he continued, “that Meta only has time to worry about the biggest, most revenue-damaging instances.”
Minimize unethical scratching
Tackling questionable data scraping is a huge problem, Grimes added. “It’s like phishing and password guessing,” he said. “Sellers can’t hope to stop it. The best they can try to do is arrest the most easily recognized and egregious cases.
Miller noted that most social media platforms have roadblocks in their terms of service to limit malicious scraping.
“But what some also want to reduce is non-malicious scraping to force organizations to only go through Meta, for example, for some of the information that social scraping can provide,” she added.
Romero wrote that litigation is just one of the tools Meta uses to combat scraping. “We have also invested in technical teams and tools that monitor and detect suspicious activity and the use of unauthorized automation for scraping,” she explained.
“This focus on scraping is part of our ongoing work to protect people’s privacy,” she added. “In the coming months, we plan to discuss some of the other measures we use to proactively stop scraping.”
Until these additional measures to counter malicious scraping are revealed, litigation may be the most effective way to curb the practice.
“Getting sued is a big motivation not to,” Grimes observed. “Who wants to be sued by a tech giant? You can spend millions on the first day of a hearing, even if you’ve done nothing wrong and you’re absolutely right.
“That’s the nature of lawsuits, especially in the United States, where the loser often doesn’t have to pay the winner’s fees,” he added.
“Chases are akin to getting a bigger mallet when playing whack-a-mole,” Miller said. “You might knock one out of the game, but another malicious mole will probably come back right away.”
“But, in the absence of legislation or a ruling that scraping publicly available data is illegal,” she continued, “the goal is to wear it down with the cost of litigation.”