Dec 16, 2020 - Technology

Australian lawsuit accuses Facebook of "deceptive conduct"

 In this photo illustration Facebook logo can be seen, Kolkata, India.
Photo: Indranil Aditya/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Australian government's regulatory commission announced Wednesday it's launched legal proceedings against Facebook and two of its subsidiaries for allegedly engaging in "false, misleading or deceptive conduct" in regards to a mobile app.

Why it matters: Governments around the world are clamping down on tech giants. Australia's lawsuit is similar to one filed against Facebook last week by the Federal Trade Commission and most states, which alleges the firm illegally hurt competition by buying smaller rivals and "converting personal data into a cash cow."

  • Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chair Rod Sims acknowledged during a briefing "there is a link to what the FTC is saying, but they're looking at a competition issue."
  • He added "we're looking at the consumer" in the Australian case against Facebook and subsidiaries Facebook Israel and Onavo Inc over the Onavo Protect VPN app, which is no longer available.

Driving the news: The ACCC alleges the defendants "misled Australian consumers" from February 2016 to October 2017 by "representing" that the app would "keep users' personal activity data private, protected and secret, and that the data would not be used for any purpose other than providing Onavo Protect's products," per an ACCC statement.

  • The app allegedly "collected, aggregated and used significant amounts of users' personal activity data for Facebook's commercial benefit."
  • "This included details about Onavo Protect users' internet and app activity, such as records of every app they accessed and the number of seconds each day they spent using those apps," the statement added.
  • "This data was used to support Facebook’s market research activities, including identifying potential future acquisition targets."

What they're saying: A Facebook spokesperson told Reuters the firm was "always clear about the information we collect and how it is used."

  • "We will review the recent filing by the ACCC and will continue to defend our position in response to this recent filing."

Of note: Facebook said in September it would block users in Australia from sharing news on Facebook and Instagram if parliament passed a law that would force tech giants to pay publishers to distribute portions of their content.

  • Facebook and rival Google "won a key concession" when the bill was introduced last week, with updated language that "recognizes the monetary value the platforms provide to news businesses by directing readers to their websites," Bloomberg notes.
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