Meta is suing a little-known company with ties to China for scraping people’s personal data on both Facebook and Instagram.
The legal dispute concerns a California-based company called Octopus Data, which has been offering web-scraping services to paying customers via a site called Octoparse. On Tuesday, Meta filed a lawsuit in a US district court to stop the practice, citing users’ privacy.
“Octopus designed the software to scrape data accessible to the user when logged into their accounts, including data about their Facebook Friends such as email address, phone number, gender and date of birth, as well as Instagram followers and engagement information such as name, user profile URL, location and number of likes and comments per post,” Meta says.
Meta’s lawsuit also points out Octoparse is owned by Shenzhen Vision Information Technology Co. (SVIT), a provider of “big data products” capable of mining the internet for insights.
Meta claims SVIT may have tried to conceal its ties to Octoparse after registering the domain in 2015. “By March 21, 2018, the registration was anonymized using privacy guard and information about the registrant was no longer publicly available,” the company’s lawsuit says.
Nevertheless, Meta said it spotted SVIT CEO Keven Liu promoting the web-scraping service on his Facebook page.
Meta is now demanding the US court intervene, citing how the web scraping violates the terms of service for both Facebook and Instagram. The lawsuit also notes Octoparse was built with various evasion features to prevent companies such as Meta from detecting the web scraping. In addition to Facebook and Instagram, customers can also use Octoparse to scrap data from Twitter, YouTube, along with e-commerce sites such as Amazon.
Octopus Data did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the company’s website has been advertising the web scraping as a marketing tool to help people better maximize their social media engagement.
In the meantime, Meta is asking the judge to order an injunction banning Octopus Data from using Facebook or Instagram ever again while forcing the company to pay up in damages. Meta also says it’s already shut down the Facebook and Instagram accounts associated with Octoparse.