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Facebook taken to court over data ownership dispute

Case spurred by Power.com hopes to resolve issue of who owns data on social networking websites – users or the sites

Facebook is being sued over claims of 'unfair competition'.
Facebook is being sued over claims of 'unfair competition'.

Social media aggregator Power.com is taking Facebook to court in hopes of finally settling the controversy over who owns data on social networking websites - users or the sites.

Founded in 2007, Power.com allows users to log into different social media accounts – MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Orkut and Hi5 - over its interface. In December 2008, Facebook filed a lawsuit claiming that it used Facebook data without authorization, sparking a debate over data ownership rights.

Now Power.com has filed a lawsuit in California denying Facebook’s allegations and countersuing them with claims of unfair competition.

"Facebook is attempting to intimidate an innovative start‐up company that it perceives as a competitive threat," stated Scott A. Bursor, Power.com’s legal counsel. "Facebook is trying to lock in its users by stifling the development of Power.com's innovative new technologies that liberate Internet users from Facebook's proprietary restrictions over their own data."

Power.com claims that the entry of usernames and passwords to access a website through a third party is commonplace in the industry and that it’s also adopted by Facebook on its own site, allowing its users to access contact and personal data from sites such as Yahoo!, Hotmail and Gmail.

“YOU the user create – and own – almost all the content on Facebook. You put up your photos, profiles, contacts, and you own all of that. You have friends on Facebook and you own those relationships and everything you write to them,” Power.com CEO Steve Vachani responded in criticism of Facebook. “Although users’ ownership of their own data seems self evident, Facebook has historically been criticized for not respecting its users’ rights regarding their own content.”

Earlier this year, Facebook faced a backlash from its own users angry about changes to its terms of service (TOS) that stated the company, and not the users, owned content from deactivated accounts. At the time, CEO Mark Zuckerberg compared it to how email services work.