A court case in California has accused Facebook to have used its apps to gather information and data about users and their connections, including people who don’t have an account, engaging in mass surveillance. This included reading through messages, accessing to locations and photos in their mobile devices. Although a spokesperson from Facebook has stated that the claims “have no merit, and we will continue to defend ourselves vigorously”, whether the company has been engaged in practices of surveillance or not has yet to be answered directly.

The lawsuit has been brought forward by former startup Six4Three  and has been ongoing for the over two years. The documents filed for the court case include personal conversations between the company’s senior executives, and are currently sealed. Facebook has requested for the use of a Californian law that would allow them for the case to be dismissed, which has been strongly opposed by Six4Three. The accusations of surveillance were presented during the startup’s fifth filing for the case in January, stating their belief that the information gathered by Facebook was intended to be used for commercial purposes. They presented several different methods for gathering the data, some of which had been adapted for the users’ mobile devices. Among the techniques, Six4Three stated the use of location tracking, as well as the use of the devices’ microphones to record audio. However, all arguments and claims related to the fifth filing have been censored and edited under Facebook’s request, under the belief that these are confidential matters related to their business.

The developer has presented the claim that Facebook brought in fellow developers and investors to the social media platform by using a misleading description of their data controls and privacy settings.  It has been stated that the company was able to collect metadata and messages from users with Android phones, and photos (both the ones uploaded to their profile and the ones on the device) from their IPhone using users. Other alleged strategies were Bluetooth remote activation, which provided users’ locations, and the creation of an early expiration date for privacy settings, without a notification for its users. The Guardian reported that, after a submission to the court in which Six4Three displayed an “anti-SLAPP motion”, Facebook stated: “Six4Three is taking its fifth shot at an ever-expanding set of claims and all of its claim turn on one decision, which is absolutely protected: Facebook’s editorial decision to stop publishing certain user-generated content via its Platform to third-party app developer”.

Another court filing by the developer stated that Facebook had not fully-disclosed that some of their privacy settings were set to expire after a period of time. The lawsuit also claims that the procedure for access to the user’s messages was presented to them as an alternative for easier login, yet was used to gather other messages and data. The complaint argues that “Facebook used this data to give certain Facebook products and features an unfair competitive advantage over other social applications on Facebook Platform”.

The company has confirmed and admitted having recollected data from calls and text messages, yet it specified that this was only done after the users’ consent was expressed. The Guardian, on the other hand, has reported that Facebook gained access into said messages without consent of some users. In a similar manner, the company is said to have accessed the iOS’ Camera Roll, meaning that this would give them access to pictures shared in the users’ accounts, the ones stored in their devices and the ones used under the “sync” option.