Feeds

Facebook leaked users' real names with advertisers, suit says

Tell-tale referrer headers violated privacy policy

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

Two California men have filed a federal lawsuit accusing Facebook of sharing their real names and other sensitive information with advertisers in violation of the social network's own privacy policy.

The personally identifiable information was relayed in referrer headers that were sent over three months to advertisers when users clicked on banner ads, according to an amended complaint filed this week in US District Court in San Jose, California. The header, which is included in URLs that lead to an advertising webpage, shows the Facebook address the user was browsing when he encountered the ad. The information is designed to help advertisers serve content that's geared to his age, location and interests.

Following a site overhaul in February, Facebook began embedding data in the headers that included ever more user information, including in many cases the user's Facebook username, according to the complaint.

“In particular, Facebook caused referrer headers to include not just the URL of a web page a person was viewing (e.g., a person viewing the profile of Facebook user John Doe) but also confirmation of the specific identify [sic] of the person viewing a web page (e.g., that it is John Doe himself who is viewing his own profile),” the 24-page complaint alleges.

“Similar information was revealed as users browsed photos or used other Facebook functions. Clicking an ad in any of these circumstances caused the advertiser to receive the entire web address of the page the user was visiting, including the user's Facebook username.”

The complaint says that the disclosure was in violation of Facebook's privacy policy, which among other things promised the site would “never share your personal information with our advertisers.” It goes on to theorize that a gay user struggling to come out of the closet could be inadvertently outted by such a scheme.

The tell-tale headers continued until Harvard professor Ben Edelman exposed the leak in May.

The complaint alleges that the Facebook gaffe violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Stored Communications Act, and California's Computer Crime Law and Consumers Legal Remedies act. It was filed on behalf of Facebook users David Gould and Mike Robertson, and seeks class-action status so other users of the site can be included.

Facebook representatives didn't respond to an email seeking comment.

A PDF of the complaint is here. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

More from The Register

next story
BMW's ConnectedDrive falls over, bosses blame upgrade snafu
Traffic flows up 20% as motorway middle lanes miraculously unclog
Putin: Crack Tor for me and I'll make you a MILLIONAIRE
Russian Interior Ministry offers big pile o' roubles for busting pro-privacy browser
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Don't look, Snowden: Security biz chases Tails with zero-day flaws alert
Exodus vows not to sell secrets of whistleblower's favorite OS
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.