Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc for years paid a contractor to scrape data from other websites while publicly condemning the practice and suing companies that pulled data from its own social-media platforms.
Meta’s scraping surfaced in legal documents filed in a California court case in which the social media giant sued the Israel-based data collection company Bright Data for harvesting and selling information drawn from Facebook and Instagram.
It’s an ironic turn of events for the company: Email correspondence between the two businesses appears to confirm that Meta had a years-long professional relationship with the data-scraping outfit. Bright Data offers a range of services that include scraping profile information as well as likes, follows, posts, and comments from social media platforms such as TikTok and Twitter, and ecommerce sites like Amazon, eBay and Walmart.
Meta spokesman Andy Stone confirmed in an interview with Bloomberg that Meta had paid Bright Data to gather data from ecommerce sites in order to build brand profiles on Meta platforms, but declined to say which sites were scraped. Meta also used Bright Data to find “harmful websites” and “phishing operations,” he said.
Since 2021, Meta has cracked down on scraping-for-hire services with a series of lawsuits against companies that scrape data from its platform. In addition to Bright Data, that includes US-based Voyager Labs; Octopus, a US subsidiary of a Chinese enterprise company, and BrandTotal Ltd. In January, Meta published the latest in a series of blog posts about how it was “leading the fight against scraping-for-hire”.
“The collection of data from websites can serve legitimate integrity and commercial purposes, if done lawfully and in accordance with those websites’ terms,” said Stone. He said Meta was not using Bright Data to scrape rivals’ websites.
Meta ended the relationship with Bright Data after learning that it was violating company terms prohibiting the automated collection and selling of data, Stone added.
Many companies scrape websites to retrieve data that can help them keep track of competitors, better understand a specific audience, follow market trends and compare prices. However, scraping can pose a privacy risk when it targets personal information such as contact details, and runs afoul of EU law if companies don’t make an effort to prevent that through technical and legal means. In November, Meta was fined €265mil (US$277mil) by the EU for failing to protect user data from being scraped by third parties.
Meta filed its lawsuit against Bright Data in San Francisco on Jan 6. Among the submitted documents is an email exchange between Meta representatives and Bright Data chief executive officer Or Lenchner.
“As you know, Meta has long been a valued client of our proxy and scraping services for at least the last six years,” Lenchner wrote in Dec 1 email, later referring to “the two companies’ long-lasting successful partnership”.
Bright Data confirmed that it provided scraping services to Meta but declined to disclose which websites it was asked to target.
Bright Data has filed a counter-suit asking for permission to continue scraping data from Facebook and Instagram. In its suit, the company noted its compliance with EU and US regulations, and stressed that it only collects public information that isn’t login-protected. – Bloomberg