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ChamberLeaks: Pro-Chamber Conspiracy Illicitly Scraped Facebook

By Brad Johnson on February 14, 2011 at 1:52 pm

"ChamberLeaks: Pro-Chamber Conspiracy Illicitly Scraped Facebook"

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ThinkProgress has previously revealed how Hunton & Williams — a top law firm working for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — solicited three private security contractors to investigate political opponents of the Chamber. A key service that attracted the Chamber’s lawyers to the corporate spies — Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies, and HBGary Federal — was the ability of HBGary’s CEO Aaron Barr to use computer programs to “scrape” personal information from the websites of Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites.

Leaked emails show that Berico, Palantir, and HBGary conspired to store information scraped from social media sites on Palantir’s servers. On November 11, Barr sent Facebook data about the supporters and leaders of Change To Win, CodePink, US Chamber Watch and other organizations to Berico, who then passed the “scrapes” with “mugshots” along to Palantir:

Just after the November elections, Hunton & Williams partner John Woods specifically requested that Barr “impress” his colleague Richard Wyatt, the head of the firm’s litigation group, by investigating Chamber adversary Stop The Chamber. Woods made the request after Barr demonstrated unethical personal data collection about Wyatt. Woods noted that invading Wyatt’s privacy “might freak out” his partner, but then encouraged Barr to go after the Chamber’s political opponents using the same methods.

Woods also solicited the corporate spies with the “URGENT OPPORTUNITY” to produce a presentation on WikiLeaks for Bank of America that promoted their “social media exploitation.”

Such acts are in explicit contravention of the legal terms of service of Facebook:

You will not collect users’ content or information, or otherwise access Facebook, using automated means (such as harvesting bots, robots, spiders, or scrapers) without our permission.

If you collect information from users, you will: obtain their consent, make it clear you (and not Facebook) are the one collecting their information, and post a privacy policy explaining what information you collect and how you will use it.

Facebook has strict policies for registering researchers who wish to conduct automated data collection, which it does not appear that Hunton & Williams or the contractors followed.

“Collection through automated means of people’s information violates our terms,” Facebook spokesman Fred Wolens told ThinkProgress. “We have taken, and will continue to take action against organizations that violate these terms.”

Likewise, it is a violation of the legally binding LinkedIn terms of service to use “manual or automated software, devices, scripts robots, other means or processes to access, “scrape,” “crawl” or “spider” any web pages or other services contained in the site” or to “[c]ollect, use or transfer any information, including but not limited to, personally identifiable information obtained from LinkedIn except as expressly permitted in this Agreement or as the owner of such information may expressly permit.”

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