Meta announced yesterday that it is pursuing legal action against a data scraping-for-hire firm called Voyager Labs for allegedly “improperly” amassing Facebook and Instagram users’ publicly available information, which it then sold to organizations including the Los Angeles Police Department, Meta says. As The Verge and other outlets note, the LAPD then utilized the data trove to compile profiles of potential future criminals. Critics have repeatedly voiced concerns over methodology and algorithms behind this strategy as being reductionist, unethical, and racist.
Public knowledge of Voyager Labs’ tactics can be traced back to November 2021 via a report from The Guardian, but Meta only recently instigated a wholesale ban of the company alongside more than 38,000 fake user profiles from its social media platforms, according to a legal complaint filed on Thursday. Using a proprietary software system, Voyager Labs allegedly launched multiple campaigns utilizing false accounts spread across a diverse computer network in various countries to hide its activity. From there, Meta claims it amassed “profile information, posts, friends lists, photos and comments” from over 600,000 users. Those datasets were then sold to third-party buyers for their own purposes, such as the LAPD.
In its legal complaint, Meta alleges that Voyager Labs violated the company’s Terms of Service against fake accounts, alongside unauthorized and automated scraping. Voyager Labs also conducted similar strategies on other platforms including Twitter, Telegram, and YouTube, according to the lawsuit.
“We cannot comment on this aspect of the legal action,” a spokesperson for Meta told PopSci.
Situations such as what allegedly happened with Voyager Labs are often difficult to cope with for even the biggest tech giants like Meta. Legal cases can move notoriously slowly—all the while, the problematic companies can continue their potentially illegal tactics, often emboldened by the perceived inaction. Previously, Meta launched similar legal action against a different data-scraping company, Octopus, for amassing information on over 350,000 Instagram users.
Meta is seeking a permanent injunction for the company, as well as restitution for “ill-gotten profits in an amount to be proven at trial.” The request does not specify if Meta’s users affected by Voyager Labs’ actions will be included in the compensation.