Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Facebook Tracking Users After Logout

Facebook tracking cookies

Earlier today in California, U.S. District Judge Edward Davila ruled in favor of Facebook on the 5 1/2 year old lawsuit that accused the social media giant of unlawfully tracking its users’ Internet use after they’d signed out of their Facebook accounts.

The period in question is between April 22, 2010 and September 26, 2011, when the plaintiffs said Facebook was tracking users despite saying that logging out of the account would delete the tracking cookies. The lawsuit contended that this tracking violated federal and state laws (California) on privacy and wiretapping, arguing that the cookies were tracking users’ usage on non-Facebook sites where Facebook’s Like buttons were used.

The judge said on Monday that the plaintiffs “have not established that they have a reasonable expectation of privacy” with respect to these non-Facebook sites that users were visiting. He added that the company had not violated wiretapping laws since it was already a party to those communications and had not unlawfully “intercepted” them. He also said that the plaintiffs did not succeed in establishing “realistic economic harm or loss” arising from the comments issues by Facebook on the matter.

The same judge had earlier dismissed a previous version of the lawsuit nearly two years ago, in October 2015. The current ruling also disallows any amendment or re-filing of the wiretapping allegations or privacy accusations from the plaintiff, but does allow them to pursue a different line of action – breach of contract.

This ruling is sure to come as a big relief for not just FB, which said it was pleased with the ruling, but all social media companies that track their users in similar ways.

An excerpt from the company’s Cookies Policy page:

“We use cookies if you have a Facebook account, use the Facebook Services, including our website and apps (whether or not you are registered or logged in), or visit other websites and apps that use the Facebook Services (including the Like button or our advertising tools).”

Cookies are not new; they’ve been in wide use since they were invented in June 1994 by Lou Montulli for the purpose of tracking partial transaction states for MCI’s e-commerce platform. It eventually allowed for a reliable way to implement the virtual shopping cart that everyone takes for granted today.

There’s no doubt cookies are useful to businesses, but their usage over the years has courted a significant amount of controversy. In addition, they are often used by hackers to mount man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks, along with posing other significant security risks like cookie theft, network eavesdropping, cross-site scripting and more.

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