Meta sues surveillance firm for stealing user data

Voyager labs created and used over 38,000 fake Facebook user accounts and its surveillance software to scrape more than 600,000 Facebook users’ viewable profile information.

January 16, 2023 03:24 pm | Updated 04:57 pm IST

In this file photo, a person uses Facebook on a smartphone in front of a computer screen showing the META logo, in Los Angeles

In this file photo, a person uses Facebook on a smartphone in front of a computer screen showing the META logo, in Los Angeles | Photo Credit: AFP

Meta has filed a legal action against “scraping-for-hire” service Voyager Labs for secretly collecting massive amounts of personal data from users of social networking sites including Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram.

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Voyager developed, distributed, and used surveillance software that relied on fake accounts and unauthorized automated means to collect or “scrape” data from Facebook and Instagram, and other websites such as Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Telegram, according to a California court filing by Meta on Thursday.

Voyager labs created and used over 38,000 fake Facebook user accounts and its surveillance software to scrape more than 600,000 Facebook users’ viewable profile information, including posts, likes, friends lists, photos, comments, and information from Facebook Groups and Pages, according to the lawsuit.

The firm designed the software to conceal its presence and activity from Meta and others, and sold and licensed for profit the data it scraped.

Voyager used a diverse system of computers and networks in different countries to hide its activity, Meta said.

Scraping-for-hire services like Voyager are part of an industry that provides scraping services to anyone regardless of the users they target and for what purpose. This industry collects information that people share with their community, family and friends, without oversight or accountability, Meta said in a blog on Thursday. 

The Facebook-parent is now seeking damages and injunctive relief from Voyager labs for violating Facebook’s and Instagram’s terms, as well as California law. 

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