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Facebook user complains spam filter blocked notifications of Beacon Settlement

January 7, 2010

When Facebook agreed to resolve a class-action privacy lawsuit stemming from the Beacon program, the judge presiding over the case ordered the company to notify users via the updates section of their Facebook inboxes. Facebook also decided to send emails about the settlement directly to users' outside accounts.

Now one Facebook member has complained to the court that some emails sent to Gmail accounts have been sent to users' spam folders. "I find it disingenuous that a company as technologically proficient as Facebook could have not foreseen that this email would be filtered to spam," New York resident Shan Huangfu wrote to the U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif.

Huangfu argues that the social networking service should have posted a notice about the settlement on the home page of its own site. He is asking the court to require Facebook to send out new notices "in such a way that the possibility of being filtered as spam is minimized."

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes defends the notification procedure, saying that the company wasn't required to send emails at all. "The court ordered us to send notice to the 'updates' section of Beacon users' Facebook inboxes and we complied. We sent the email as an additional precaution."

The email notice includes the basic terms of the settlement and also directs people to the site for more details.

At this point, it's not clear what proportion of affected users have opened messages that appeared as Facebook updates. It's also not clear how many messages went to spam folders or why, but one possible explanation is that some of the initial recipients marked the messages as spam -- perhaps because the messages came from Facebook, but contained a link to a non-Facebook site. Gmail's filters are more likely to tag a message as spam if other users have already reported that email as spam.

The proposed settlement calls on Facebook to shutter Beacon, which tells members about their friends' off-site ecommerce activity. The deal also requires Facebook to contribute $9.5 million to a settlement fund, two-thirds of which will be used to form a new privacy foundation. The settlement also provides for damage awards ranging from $1,000 to $15,000 to the 19 individual users named in the complaint; no other Facebook users will receive any monetary awards if the deal goes through.

The court is expected to decide later this year whether to approve the settlement.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Richard Seeborg said in October that anyone who wants to opt out of the settlement must mail a signed request for exclusion to an address in Novato, Calif. before Feb. 1. As of Monday, the court had only posted three letters from Facebook members, and Huangfu was the only one to raise questions about the notification procedure. (One person wrote to consent to the settlement, while a second said the lawsuit should be dismissed.)

But other objections are expected to roll in closer to the deadline. A group of consumers in Texas have already indicated they intend to object to the settlement. These consumers are pursuing their own lawsuits against both Blockbuster and Facebook for participating in the program. They argue that sharing information about movie rental records violates the federal Video Privacy Protection Act and entitles them to damages of $2,500 per incident.

Author:  Wendy Davis, MediaPost News


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