6 mins read

Meta drops lawsuit against web-scraping firm Bright Data that sold millions of Instagram records

Meta has dropped its lawsuit against Israeli web-scraping company Bright Data, after losing a key claim in its case a few weeks ago. The social networking giant has a history of waging war against companies that scrape data from its websites and apps, and Bright Data was among the latest to face a legal attack. However, the court recently ruled in favor of Bright Data on a breach of contract claim, saying that Meta hadn’t presented sufficient evidence that proved the firm had scraped anything other than public data. Rather than continue to fight this case, Meta has now dropped the lawsuit, court filings indicate.

Beyond being just another case of web scraping, what made this case particularly interesting was that Meta was a Bright Data customer at one time. That is, the company had provided Meta with data from e-commerce websites to build brand profiles on its platforms. However, when Bright Data scraped Meta’s own data, the company sued.

The court last month ruled for a partial summary judgment on the breach of contract claims because it said Meta didn’t show enough evidence to indicate that Bright Data had scraped non-public data — meaning data behind a log-in screen or a password-protected page. The case delved into how much user data is being collected by third-party firms like Bright Data, who then sell their data collections to other companies, where they can be used for a variety of purposes, including market research, marketing, ad tech, AI training, and more.

In this case, Meta had brought to the court an example of Bright Data’s web-scraping activities — a massive dataset that included 615 million records of Instagram data that sold for $860,000. The dataset included fields like users’ names, IDs, country, post counts, bios, hashtags, followers, posts, profile images, business categories, emails, and more. But the court didn’t believe Meta showed enough evidence that the data could have only been collected by a logged-in user account.

In another example, Meta attempted to show that Bright Data was in possession of non-public information, but the court said this also couldn’t be used to prove logged-in scraping, as Meta claimed, since the information could have been publicly accessible at an earlier time when the scraping occurred.

The court additionally disagreed with Meta that using automated tools to bypass access restrictions, like CAPTCHAs, was the same as accessing a “password-protected website.”

And even though Meta had found Bright Data advertised a “scraping browser” that automated logging into websites to facilitate logged-in data collection, the court said Meta didn’t have evidence that proved the browser was used in this particular case of scraping Meta’s data.

Finally, the court said there was no evidence that Bright Data used its own Facebook and Instagram accounts for scraping, so it couldn’t be held accountable by Meta’s terms of service and other legal policies users agree to. At the time of the ruling, Meta said it was evaluating the next steps in the ongoing litigation.

On Friday, February 23, 2024, Meta filed to dismiss the remaining claim in its lawsuit against the web-scraping firm (a tortious interference claim), “without prejudice,” and waived its right to appeal the prior order that granted summary judgment in favor of Bright Data on the breach of contract claim.

It’s a rare loss on Meta’s part against the industry of web scrapers, which it regularly litigates against to discourage the practice.

In many other cases, Meta has prevailed, including the October 2022 settlement of a case against two other firms, Israeli-based BrandTotal Ltd. and Delaware-incorporated Unimania Inc., which both agreed to a permanent injunction that banned them from scraping Facebook and Instagram data going forward. Both also had to pay Meta a “significant financial sum,” the tech giant had said. Earlier, Meta settled in 2020 with the scraping service Massroot8. And in 2022, it sued a clone site operator and a company called Octopus, a U.S. subsidiary of a Chinese national high-tech enterprise that had offered scraping services. Meta won that case as well, and the court issued a permanent injunction to stop the firm’s data-scraping operations.

Last year, Meta sued another scraping-for-hire firm Voyager Labs, but that case is ongoing.

Bright Data says its case was not dismissed because the parties came to a settlement, as it made no agreement with Meta nor will it make any changes to its conduct. In short, the company believes that Meta’s terms do not apply to the scraping of public information while logged out of an account and that this case upholds its right to do so. However, it also indicates that Meta simply needs to provide better evidence of illegal scraping when taking a web scraper to court, beyond just showing it has Meta’s data to sell and runs a business providing data scraping.

“This concession by Meta is a pivotal moment for Bright Data and the web scraping community. We are thrilled with the outcome of this case, solidifying public information is just that public,” said Or Lenchner, CEO of Bright Data, in an email with TechCrunch. “Bright Data remains committed to keeping public web data freely accessible to everyone. The internet was intended for everyone’s benefit and no single entity or person should claim they own it,” he added.

Meta has been asked for comment but one was not immediately provided.

The company’s lawsuit was case No. is 3:23-cv-00077-EMC and was filed in the U.S. District Court in Northern California.

Source link