Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

'Farmville' Creator Hit With Class Action Suit Over Online Privacy

FarmVille creator Zynga has a particularly tough row to hoe this week. On Monday, the Wall Street Journal released the results of its investigation regarding the release of Facebook User IDs by Facebook and social media app makers like Zynga. As discussed in a post on this blog, controversy surrounds this practice of allowing third party firms access to this information, who then may go on to sell it to other companies.

In a fast turn-around, PCWorld reports on October 19, that a suit was filed in San Francisco Federal District Court charging Zynga with violations of federal law for the release of user information to third parties. The complaint seeks unspecified monetary damages and injunctive relief. The action, filed by attorneys for named plaintiff Nancy Graf of St. Paul, Minnesota, seeks class action status.

The information in question, the Facebook user IDs, can allow access to the name and any other information a Facebook user has decided to make public. If the user has not set their online privacy settings to keep some information confidential, the ID can reveal the name, residence and other information about the user. PCWorld says some critics find this harmless, the e-version of looking up a name in the phone book.

But others are more alarmed. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a legal non-profit dedicated to advocacy for better privacy laws and policy, is concerned over the way Facebook polices the online privacy policies of its third-party application developers. The EFF may have the better understanding in this situation, of what the exact issue is. Looking up one name in the phone book, or googling a name, to bring the example into the 21st century, is not the same as consistently finding and selling hundreds of thousands of names grouped by a common element such as the use of an app, other product, region, or other distinguishing characteristic.

USAToday has updated their report with a reply from Zynga regarding the suit. The company statement said, "We believe that the complaint is without merit, and we intend to defend against it vigorously."

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