Facebook isn't responsible for your privacy, judge rules

Facebook users can't expect the social network to protect their privacy when they're browsing online, a US judge has ruled, throwing out a lawsuit against the social networking behemoth. The case had seen Facebook accused of violating both US federal and Californian laws around privacy and wiretapping, in its use of tracking cookies. However the judge, in a decision made on Friday last week, disagreed.

The lawsuit had been filed in a San Jose, CA court, with the plaintiffs arguing with Facebook's use of cookies when users were logged out of the social site itself. Those tracking cookies could be used to connect individuals and their browsing history to their profiles on Facebook when the sites they visited had a "Like" button, it was pointed out.

However, the judge in the case wasn't convinced that the onus was all on Facebook. "The fact that a user's web browser automatically sends the same information to both parties," U.S. District Judge Edward Davila ruled, "does not establish that one party intercepted the user's communication with the other." Moreover, he decided that the plaintiffs hadn't sufficiently demonstrated that Facebook was guilty of having "intercepted" their communications as they used the internet more broadly.

Without a reasonable expectation of privacy, he pointed out, nor any "realistic" economic harm or loss, there was no real fall-out. It's not the first time he's made such a decision. This particular case was a new version of another lawsuit that had been filed more than five years ago, Reuters reports.

Moving forward, the plaintiffs won't be able to use the same privacy and wiretapping arguments. However, they'll be allowed to file another suit over breach of contract, if they so choose. It's unclear at this stage whether that's planned.

Facebook's approach to privacy has proved controversial over the years. The ubiquity of the social network, and the numerous ways in which it encourages people to share, have seen it become the target of numerous lawsuits alleging oversteps. At the same time, Facebook has rolled out a number of privacy policy updates that attempt to walk a fine line between giving individual user-control without trampling too significantly on the data that it monetizes.

Most recently, with two billion users now on the books, Facebook announced a number of changes, particularly to how the news feed operates. That has proved similarly controversial over the last 12-18 months, given the claims of "fake news" posts swaying sentiment in the US election.