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Facebook accused of spying on Instagram users – through their phone’s cameras
By Ramon Tomey // Sep 20, 2020

Social media giant Facebook is in hot water once more over alleged privacy violations. A New Jersey user sued the company over alleged spying on Instagram users through unauthorized access of their mobile phone cameras. The lawsuit filed Sep. 17 follows a report in July that the social media app owned by Facebook appeared to be accessing iPhone cameras – despite not being used actively.


Brittany Conditi filed the lawsuit in San Francisco, N.J.'s federal court, contending that the app's use of the camera was done intentionally to collect “lucrative and valuable data on its users it would not otherwise have access to.”

The suit also mentioned that Facebook collected “valuable insights and market research” by means of “obtaining extremely private and intimate personal data on their users, including in the privacy of their own homes.” Furthermore, the suit highlighted that Facebook had the ability “to see in real-time how users respond to advertisements on Instagram” before forwarding these insights to advertisers.

Meanwhile, Facebook denied accusations of spying and blamed a bug in the photo-sharing app for the issues. The tech giant added that the aforementioned bug that triggered “false notifications” is being fixed as of writing.

“We found ... a bug in the iOS 14 Beta that mistakenly indicated some people are using the camera when they aren’t. We do not access your camera in those instances, and no content is recorded,” according to an email from an Instagram spokesman. (Related: Yes, Facebook is watching you through your phone and computer cameras without your permission.)

The company declined to comment on the Sep. 17 lawsuit.

Prior to the federal case filed by Conditi, Facebook was named as a defendant in an August lawsuit over its illegal collection of biometric data though Instagram’s photo tagging tool. The case filed by Illinois resident Kelly Whalen in the state court of Redwood City, California claims that the app’s use of the photo tagging tool violated a state privacy law prohibiting collection of biometric data without consent.

Facebook spokeswoman Stephanie Otway called Whalen's lawsuit “baseless” and reiterated that Instagram does not use face recognition technology in an email. The company offered to pay $650 million to settle the suit.

Big Tech is the new “Big Brother”

The same behavior was also earlier reported on the Facebook app for iOS. According to a 2019 report by The Verge, using the Facebook app in certain situations activates the smartphone camera. The company submitted a fix to address these issues to Apple after some users pointed it out, the same report said.

Aside from apps gaining unauthorized access to one’s camera just like the case of Instagram and Facebook, some apps were also found to be copying data from a mobile phone’s clipboard. These included video-sharing app TikTok, job networking app LinkedIn and online discussion site Reddit.

Following the discovery, TikTok said it would disable the app’s access to mobile phone clipboards. LinkedIn followed suit and announced it would also stop copying clipboard data. Reddit said that it was fixing a piece of code in its app that caused the behavior.

The lawsuits filed by Conditi and Whalen follow concerns of privacy violations by the social media company led by Mark Zuckerberg. Monitoring users through their smartphone cameras isn’t enough for Facebook.

In July, Facebook filed a patent permitting it to conceal a sound that humans cannot hear – but will serve as a signal for smartphones installed with the Facebook ad to start recording background audio. This system will be used alongside ads to find out if people are actually paying attention.

And if spying on people without their consent through their mobile phones wasn’t enough, Zuckerberg plans to crank up the surveillance to 11 – by monitoring what people think through wearable technology.

Learn more about the myriad ways Facebook and other Big Tech companies are spying on their users at BigTech.news.

Sources include:

Bloomberg.com 1

TheVerge.com 1


Bloomberg.com 2

TheVerge.com 2


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