Facebook claims aggregating social networking content violates criminal law

Facebook is brewing up a legal stir claiming 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.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is campaigning against Facebook’s claims while civil rights lawyers have described the move as “ridiculous.”

The add on service is made by Power Ventures. It allows users to log into their multiple social networking accounts and aggregate messages, friend lists, and other data so they can see all the information in one place. However Facebook has thrown its toys out of the proverbial pram claiming that the tool violates criminal law because its own terms of service bans users from accessing their information through “automatic means.”

By using Power’s tool, Facebook argues that its users are accessing Facebook “without permission” under the California penal code.

This has angered the EFF, which filed an amicus brief earlier this week where it argued  that users have the right to choose how they access their data. It warned that turning any violation of terms of use into a criminal law violation would leave millions of Facebook users unwittingly vulnerable to prosecution. Facebook’s claims are so ridiculous that if it got its way even the simple use of the automatic login feature of most browsers would constitute a violation as those services are “automatic means” for logging in

 EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick, said: “California’s computer crime law is aimed at penalising computer trespassers.

“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.”

Civil Rights lawyer Dr Yaman Akdeniz told TechEye that he agreed with the EFF. He told us: “Users should be free to use whatever means to access Facebook or for that matter any other tool like Twitter.

“Going after users arguing for criminal use is ridiculous. Consumers should be given more choice and freedom rather than restrictions based on dubious legal arguments.”

We don’t know what to make of Facebook’s claim but coming from a social networking site that has been in and out of the press for privacy issues, we detect a hint of hypocrisy. There’s tightening up controls and then there’s just plain stupid, and unfortunately this time we’re going to go with the latter. We’re liking this Gizmodo piece citing top-ten reasons why we should quit Facebook.