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Op-Ed: The court case that had to happen — User privacy vs Facebook targeted ads

Why wouldn’t you have the right to demand people stop invading your privacy?

Photo: — © AFP
Photo: — © AFP

On the face of it, it seems simple. A UK woman considers her privacy invaded by data gathering for Facebook ads and she’s suing Meta/Facebook. What’s new, you ask? This issue hasn’t really been to court in a meaningful way. It hits directly at the entire back end of the internet.

A finding in favor of the plaintiff could well spark a major global upheaval in what is basically bread-and-butter revenues for everyone from Google to someone living in a tree in Manhattan. It could also be very expensive in retooling the entire advertising metric for every business online.

…Because it’s not just Facebook involved. Every data reseller, every site that uses cookies, you name it; this could be the court case heard around the world.

This case is about more than privacy, although it’s based on privacy rights. The lady in question, Tanya O’Carroll, says that her rights have been infringed, and UK laws broken as a result of Facebook ignoring her right to demand Facebook stops collecting data.

This is statutory law as well as a civil suit. That makes it very different. A court will have to determine whether the law has been broken, and exactly how it’s been broken. That could open the floodgates for lawsuits worldwide. These laws tend to be generic to a point, largely because they’re about the same issues.

It’s a gray-ish issue. The law is as usual behind in case law on this subject, and privacy laws are complex.

The situation is this:

  • In the simplest possible terms, your privacy is about the things you want to be private.
  • That may well include purchasing anything in any commercial context.
  • It may also include any means of obtaining information regarding private purchases, buying habits, etc.
  • Data gathering is a truly gigantic, big-money industry.
  • This data underpins revenue for the entire internet in some ways.
  • All aspects of data gathering are affected; data gathering software, markets for data, promotions based on data, marketing, and so on.

 …So there’s a lot at stake. Even retooling the software would cost billions if this case succeeds.

Facebook, meanwhile, says that users can manage how data is collected. Their privacy policy page is pretty clear. Managing data is also fairly easy.

The problem is that’s not quite the issue with this particular case. This case is based on the demand to stop collecting data. It’s a sort of “cease and desist” option for users according to the lawsuit.

It may or may not apply to the workings of privacy legislation, too. The inherent right to demand an invasion of privacy ceases is ballpark for most reasonable interpretations of privacy laws.

Why wouldn’t you have the right to demand people stop invading your privacy? It seems a pretty natural thing to do. It’s also the intent of privacy laws that people have some recourse to stop invasions of privacy from whatever source.

However – If you accept Facebook’s Terms of Service, and you’re aware of the privacy terms, can you make that argument? Facebook Advertising Terms and Conditions also make reference to privacy conditions applied to users and user experience.  

We’re about to find out exactly what that means.


The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Digital Journal or its members.

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Written By

Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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