- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2023

Meta is suing the tech company Voyager Labs in federal court over allegations it impermissibly scraped data from Facebook and Instagram using a complex campaign of fake accounts, software and a global computer system in violation of Meta’s rules.

Meta’s Jessica Romero wrote on the company’s blog that Voyager Labs created software to scrape Facebook and Instagram and used it against LinkedIn, Twitter, Telegram and YouTube. 

Scraping is the action of collecting information from websites often through deploying automated software tools. Ms. Romero, Meta‘s director of platform enforcement and litigation, said Voyager Labs scraped publicly available information accessible by logging into fake accounts, which then gathered posts, friends lists, photos and other information from accounts.

“We are seeking a permanent injunction against Voyager to protect people against scraping-for-hire services,” Ms. Romero wrote Thursday. “Companies like Voyager are part of an industry that provides scraping services to anyone regardless of the users they target and for what purpose, including as a way to profile people for criminal behavior.”

Voyager Labs touts its clients as including federal, state and local agencies. The firms says on its website that its artificial intelligence “empowers organizations worldwide to gain deep investigative insights about entities, individuals, groups and topics.”

Voyager previously promised law enforcement clients access to troves of information about individual social media users and claimed the ability to infer the strength of people’s ideological beliefs, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, citing documents it obtained involving Voyager’s work with the Los Angeles Police Department. 

The Brennan Center, a law and policy institute, has also pressed the Biden administration for records on its use of social media surveillance tools and questioned whether the Department of Homeland Security has used Voyager’s services. 

Ms. Romero said Meta disabled Voyager’s accounts and has asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to ban Voyager from Facebook and Instagram. 

“Voyager used a diverse system of computers and networks in different countries to hide its activity, including when Meta subjected the fake accounts to verifications or checks,” Ms. Romero wrote. 

Voyager Labs did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. 

Meta’s U.S. lawsuit over data scraping comes after European regulators hit it last week with a fine over privacy violations. Ireland’s Data Protection Commission slapped Meta with a fine of 390 million euros, or $414 million, over data processing operations at Facebook and Instagram. 

Meta’s comments about its litigation against Voyager Labs appeared intended to reach an international audience, as Ms. Romero wrote that companies like Voyager operate across national boundaries and require policymakers and platforms to work together to deter such activity.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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