Meta Prosecuted For Continuing To Track Users Despite Them Opting Out

Meta is being sued for directly violating Apple's privacy policies for its iOS users by continuing to track individuals by means of in-app browsers even though they had opted out.

By Jennifer Hollohan | Published

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Meta continues to be plagued by lawsuits, investigations, and concerns over user privacy. The latest in a string of ongoing trouble is a possible class-action lawsuit for violating Apple’s rules. And this could spell bad news for the social media giant. 

Last year Apple beefed up its rules for iOS app developers. They did so to help protect user privacy and data collection. Before the new safeguards, app developers could track and collect user data without their knowledge or permission.

Thanks to the recent changes, every developer now has to ask the user for permission before collecting their data. The update is welcome news for Apple users, who now feel they have a sense of control back. But app developers are less than pleased with it.

If you ask most of them why they collect so much data, they will offer a reason, such as wanting to personalize the user experience. However, in reality, this process resulted in highly targeted ads that preyed upon users. App developers count on the results to increase ad sales and bolster revenue.

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Meta is notorious for doing this and has faced significant criticism over its collection tactics. But the new Apple restrictions prevented them from collecting user data without permission, thus impacting its ad sales. So, according to the potential lawsuit, the company found a way around the requirement.

In August, a man named Felix Krause discovered a loophole. If you open a link in an app, certain apps will launch in-app browsers rather than redirecting you to a search engine like Chrome. They can (and do) inject JavaScript into those in-app browsers, which allows them to track a user without permission.

Since Meta has admitted to using JavaScript in the past, the lawsuit (Willis v. Meta Platforms Inc., 22-cv-05376) claims they are skirting Apple’s restrictions and violating user privacy. According to PC Magazine, the lawsuit accuses Meta of developing “a secret work-around.” They can then use this workaround to track unsuspecting users.

If true, it could pose significant trouble for the social media giant. The company has been in the news regularly over concerns about how it handles user data. Privacy advocates have expressed concern over what exactly Meta is doing with the data.

The potential violation of Apple’s rules is not the only concern addressed in the lawsuit. It also accuses Meta of violating state and federal laws. There are strict legal guidelines regarding user data and prohibitions against unauthorized collection tactics. 

According to the lawsuit, Meta violated the law at both state and federal levels. If they can prove the accusations in court, it would be a more serious offense than violating Apple’s rules. But, at this point, the lawsuit is still in limbo.

It has not made its way to court just yet. And whether it eventually does remains to be seen. If Meta does have to defend itself in court on this matter, it would be a win in the eyes of user privacy advocates.

For the time being, Meta has not issued a public response to the allegations. But, if you’re an Apple user, take note of this possible loophole. You can always open links in a separate browser to avoid unwanted tracking.