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Facebook’s Troubles – Manipulation One Day, Search Warrants the Next

Facebook may be in all sorts of trouble with users at present, but it has spent a year battling attempts to obtain the largest n umber of search warrants it has ever received, with prosecutors in a disabilities fraud case obtaining data from over 380 of the social media company’s users.


Facebook, which is also facing major questions being asked about its “experiment” in manipulating users’ newsfeeds to assess the emotional reaction to different stories on the feed and which has drawn widespread and unsurprising criticism.

However the search warrant issue is another furball for the social media giant to digest.

Facebook ultimately turned over the information but is appealing the court order that required it to do so, saying prosecutors intruded on users’ privacy. The Manhattan district attorney’s office and a judge have said the search warrants were justified, AP report.

The dispute adds to a roster of clashes between authorities and Internet companies over law enforcement efforts to scrutinize people’s online lives for potential evidence.

“It’s part of a trend toward more aggressive challenges by Internet providers on behalf of their customers,” said Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor who specializes in issues surrounding computers and crime.

It began secretly last July, when Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Melissa Jackson approved 381 search warrants for various Facebook users’ postings, friend lists, photos, private messages and other data, according to court filings unsealed Wednesday and first reported by The New York Times.

The users ranged from high school students to grandparents, Facebook said in a filing last week.

Sixty-two of those users are among the 134 people charged in the case, Deputy General Counsel Chris Sonderby wrote in a blog post Thursday. It’s unclear whether other users will be charged.

The warrants aimed to gather evidence against police and fire retirees allegedly coached to claim they were too psychologically devastated to work even as they golfed, rode motorcycles and otherwise led robust lives and sometimes posted the alleged proof on Facebook. More than half of the 134 defendants so far have pleaded guilty. Prosecutors say up to 1,000 people may have been involved and more charges could come.

Menlo Park, California-based Facebook argued the warrants cast a net as wide as “the digital equivalent of seizing everything in someone’s home.”

“Except here, it is not a single home but an entire neighborhood of nearly 400 homes,” the company wrote in last week’s filing.

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