Meta, a social media company, has filed a lawsuit against Voyager Labs, accusing the surveillance company of creating tens of thousands of fake accounts to scrape data from more than 600,000 Facebook users’ profiles. According to the complaint, which was obtained by Gizmodo, Voyager Labs used more than 38,000 fake Facebook user accounts to collect data from profiles, groups, and pages. The surveillance company allegedly pulled information such as posts, likes, friend lists, photos, and comments, along with other details from groups and pages.
Meta claims that Voyager Labs masked its activity using its Surveillance Software and that the company has also scraped data from Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Telegram to sell and license for profit. The social media company has asked a judge to permanently ban Voyager from Facebook and Instagram. “As a direct result of Defendant’s unlawful actions, Meta has suffered and continues to suffer irreparable harm for which there is no adequate remedy at law, and which will continue unless Defendant’s actions are enjoined,” the filing reads.
Meta claims that Voyager Labs scraped data from accounts belonging to “employees of non-profit organizations, universities, news media organizations, healthcare facilities, the armed forces of the United States, and local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as full-time parents, retirees, and union members.” The company noted in a blog post it disabled accounts linked to Voyager and that filed the suit to enforce its terms and policies.
“Companies like Voyager are part of an industry that provides scraping services to anyone regardless of the users they target and for what purpose, including as a way to profile people for criminal behavior,” said Jessica Romero, Meta’s director of platform enforcement and litigation. “This industry covertly collects information that people share with their community, family and friends, without oversight or accountability, and in a way that may implicate people’s civil rights.”
In 2021, The Guardian reported that the Los Angeles Police Department had tested Voyager’s social media surveillance tools in 2019. The company is said to have told the department that police could use the software to track the accounts of a suspect’s friends on social media, and that the system could predict crimes before they took place by making assumptions about a person’s activity.
According to The Guardian, Voyager has suggested factors like Instagram usernames denoting Arab pride or tweeting about Islam could indicate someone is leaning toward extremism. Other companies, such as Palantir, have worked on predictive policing tech. Critics such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation claim that tech can’t predict crime and that algorithms merely perpetuate existing biases.
Data scraping is an issue that Meta has had to take seriously. In 2021, it sued an individual for allegedly scraping data on more than 178 million users. Last November, the Irish Data Protection Commission fined the company €265 million ($277 million) for failing to stop bad actors from obtaining millions of people’s phone numbers and other data, which were published elsewhere online. The regulator said Meta failed to comply with GDPR data protection rules. The outcome of this case remains to be seen, but it highlights the need for companies to be transparent about their data collection practices and to be held accountable for any violations of users’ privacy.