Major Decision Affects Law of Scraping and Online Data Collection, Meta Platforms v. Bright Data
On January 23, 2024, the court in Meta Platforms Inc. v. Bright Data Ltd., Case No. 3:23-cv-00077-EMC (N.D. Cal.), issued a summary judgment ruling with potentially wide-ranging ramifications for the law of scraping and online data collection. In the ruling available here, Judge Edward Chen granted summary judgment in favor of Bright Data, a company that provides scraping infrastructure and data scraped from publicly available sources, including Meta’s social media platforms. The opinion builds on the precedent set by Judge Chen in the landmark hiQ Labs, Inc. v. LinkedIn Corp. cases, filed by Farella Braun + Martel, and which led to a significant reinterpretation of the breadth of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. § 1030) as applied to scraping.
In the Bright Data case, both parties sought early summary judgment on the issue of whether Bright Data’s activities violated Meta’s terms of service, which prohibit all users from “access[ing] or collect[ing] data from” Meta’s platforms “using automated means,” or from assisting others in doing so.
Meta argued that its terms prohibited users such as Bright Data from engaging in both logged-on and logged-off scraping, and that “any user that visits Facebook uses Facebooks’ physical infrastructure by sending a request to Meta’s servers.” See Meta v. Bright Data, MSJ Op. at *15 (emphasis in original). In response, Bright Data argued that Meta’s terms apply only to data that is behind the password wall and limit user activity only when the user is logged in.
The court sided with Bright Data and granted its summary judgment motion on Meta’s breach of contract claim. The court thoroughly analyzed Meta’s terms of service, applying traditional principles of contract interpretation, to conclude that the terms explicitly govern “your use” of Meta’s products and that “Bright Data did not ‘use’ Facebook and Instagram when it engaged in public logged-off scraping.” Meta v. Bright Data, MSJ Op. at *11. The court found this interpretation consistent with the overall language and purpose of the user provisions of the terms, because the purpose of the relevant sections of the terms was “to prevent account holders who have privileges and access to Meta services from abusing their access to such services.” Id., at *15. Thus, “[w]hen an entity does not utilize that access to, e.g., scrape public data, it does not abuse that access; it stands in the same shoes as a visitor to whom the Terms cannot apply as a matter of basic contract law.” Id. As a result, Bright Data did not breach any contract with Meta by engaging in logged-off scraping of public data nor by the sale of such public data. The court granted summary judgment in favor of Bright Data and denied the same for Meta. Only Meta’s claim for tortious interference with contract remains in the suit.
There are other important aspects of the ruling (including the court’s rejection of a “survival clause” in the terms of service), but its ruling regarding what “use” of a social media platform means could have significant repercussions for scraping companies. Meta has relied on its interpretation of the terms of service in cease and desist letters and litigation for years to attempt to dissuade scraping companies from collecting public data from Meta’s platforms. If this ruling stands (and it seems likely that Meta will appeal), it will make scraping data that is publicly available on social media platforms significantly less risky.
Farella Braun + Martel has a robust practice representing scraping companies in litigation and in counseling them on the risks associated with online data collection.
 See hiQ Labs, Inc. v. LinkedIn Corp., 273 F.Supp.3d 1099 (N.D. Cal. 2017) (“hiQ I”), aff’d, 31 F.4th 1180 (9th Cir. 2022); hiQ Labs, Inc. v. LinkedIn Corp., 639 F.Supp.3d 944 (N.D. Cal. 2022) (“hiQ II”).