Facebook suffers big loss in lawsuit against data-scraping company

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One year after Meta sued a data-scraping company, a federal judge this week threw out Meta’s breach-of-contract claim because the defendant obtained only public data from Facebook and Instagram.

Meta sued Bright Data in January 2023, making claims of breach of contract and tortious interference with contract. Bright Data is an Israeli company that collects data from various websites and offers related products to businesses.

“Bright Data concedes that it was bound to Meta’s Terms while it had Facebook and Instagram accounts, and that it sells data collected from Facebook and Instagram,” US District Judge Edward Chen wrote in a ruling issued Tuesday. “However, even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party (Meta)… the Facebook and Instagram Terms do not bar logged-off scraping of public data; perforce it does not prohibit the sale of such public data. Therefore, the Terms cannot bar Bright Data’s logged-off scraping activities.”

Meta alleged that Bright Data violated Facebook and Instagram policies by developing and using “unauthorized automation software to scrape data from Facebook and Instagram, including users’ profile information, followers, and posts that users have shared with others.” The case is in US District Court for the Northern District of California.

Bright Data “did not breach” Meta terms

As Chen’s ruling notes, “Bright Data moved for summary judgment on Meta’s breach of contract claim, asserting that its scraping publicly available data is not prohibited by the Meta, Facebook, or Instagram Terms.” Chen wrote that “the undisputed evidence establishes that Bright Data only engaged in logged-out scraping of public data unrelated to its accounts with Meta and thus did not breach the Terms either while it had accounts with Facebook and Instagram or after terminating its accounts.”

Chen granted Bright Data’s motion for summary judgment on the breach-of-contract claim. He also rejected Meta’s cross-motion for partial summary judgment, which argued “that Meta’s Terms created a valid and enforceable contract, and that Bright Data was bound by and breached the Terms by its scraping activities.”

Because of these rulings, “the only claim remaining against Bright Data is the claim for tortious interference with contract,” Chen wrote. Chen scheduled a status conference for March 5 to discuss litigation of the remaining claim.

Meta’s tortious interference claim alleges that Bright Data “induced” Facebook and Instagram users to breach the services’ terms by advertising the Bright Data scraping services to logged-in users.

“Defendant is aware that the customers to whom it sells its software and services have Facebook and Instagram accounts and are bound by the Facebook and Instagram Terms,” Meta alleged in its January 2023 complaint. “By offering services and tools designed to scrape data from Facebook and Instagram in violation of the Facebook and Instagram Terms, Defendant induced a breach or disruption of the Facebook and Instagram Terms by other Facebook and Instagram users.”

Bright Data sells proxy and “Web Unlocker”

Bright Data’s products include a proxy network service that lets customers browse the Internet more anonymously, and a “Web Unlocker” tool that is “designed to prevent website operators like Meta from ‘us[ing] various techniques to blacklist members of the public’ from accessing public information on the Internet,” this week’s ruling said.

Bright Data also sells a Web Scraper Integrated Development Environment that is designed to help programmers conduct automated searches, and sells customized data sets based on specific search requests from customers.

Meta tries to fight scraping with a lockout mechanism that redirects users to a login screen after they view a certain amount of information, Chen noted. Meta also uses rate and data limits, CAPTCHas, and models that detect and block automated scraping.

The ruling against Meta may be of interest to Elon Musk’s X Corp., which made claims related to scraping of the platform formerly named Twitter in a lawsuit against the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). The CCDH’s motion to dismiss X’s lawsuit is still pending in the Northern District of California federal court.

X Corp. last year also sued unidentified data scrapers, but a Dallas County District Court judge threw out the lawsuit and ordered X to pay court costs.

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