Facebook claims data portability is criminal

In the past, we’ve been contacted by Power.com about their long-standing conflict with Facebook, but which seems to have been dismissed by Facebook management as a petty distraction. The Electronic Frontiers Foundation has now got itself involved, urging a federal judge to dismiss Facebook’s claims – which is, that criminal law is violated when its users opt for an add-on service that helps them aggregate their information from a variety of social networking sites. Some very important points have been raised that I’ve quoted below from the press release:

“California’s computer crime law is aimed at penalizing computer trespassers,” said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. “Users who choose to give their usernames and passwords to aggregators like Power Ventures are not trespassing. Under Facebook’s theory, millions of Californians who disregard or don’t read terms of service on the websites they visit could face criminal liability. Also, any Internet company could use this argument as a hammer to prevent its users from easily leaving the service as well as to shut down innovators and competitors.”

Even the simple use of the automatic login feature of most browsers would constitute a violation under Facebook’s theory, since those services are “automatic means” for logging in. But the risk for users is even broader. If any violation of terms of use is criminal, users who shave a few years off their age in their profile, claim to be single when they are married, or change jobs or addresses without updating Facebook right away would also have violated the criminal law.

“The information you put into social networking sites is yours, and you should be able to access it, export it, and aggregate it as you please,” said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. “If Facebook’s legal argument is upheld, it will hobble companies that enable consumer choice, as well a create a massive expansion in the scope of California criminal law.”

For the full brief: http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/facebook_v_power/poweramicus.pdf

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