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Houston Woman Sues Facebook Over Revenge Porn Account

Houston Woman Sues Facebook Over Revenge Porn Account
Photo by Maria Elena

Meryem Ali got a call from her cousin.

"Meryem, what is up with you and Facebook?" her cousin asked in December 2013.

Ali said she hadn't logged onto the site in months.

"You need to get home and look at it," her cousin told her, "because someone's acting like it's you, and it's not you."

Ali soon found a Facebook profile of her filled with sexual, doctored photos of her, including a photo of her performing a sex act. She asked Facebook to delete the fake profile, then she asked some more. Finally, the social network did so in April.

That's the story David Altenbern, Ali's lawyer, told Hair Balls in explaining the lawsuit Ali is bringing against Facebook and a man she had a shortlived relationship with.

According to Altenbern, Ali, who is from Houston, went to Chicago with her family approximately five years ago when she met Adeel Shah Khan. Altenbern said his client made two more trips to Illinois thereafter, during which she met up with Khan, before ultimately deciding she wanted no more of the relationship.

Then the Facebook profile popped up in December 2013. A Houston Police Department subpoena found Khan to be the man behind the catfish of sorts.

Now, Ali is suing Facebook $123 million for its alleged inability to protect her privacy and failure to act promptly.

"Every guy she sees in a grocery store that smiles at her...she doesn't know if they've seen it," Altenbern said.

Ali is suing Khan in the suit, too, but Facebook has the fatter wallet.

Ali is asking for the social network to pay her ten cents per each user it has -- all 1.23 billion.

 

A petition filed July 25 explains that Ali is seeking justice for "significant trauma, extreme humiliation, extreme embarrassment, severe emotional disturbances, and severe mental and physical suffering."

But the lawsuit isn't just about personal troubles. The petition argues that "Facebook's upper management knows that its operations regularly allow for the compromising in significant way of the reasonable and expected privacy rights of its subscribers," and that the lawsuit is intended to cause people to "stand up, take notice and pay attention to the serious privacy violations concerns involved in revenge porn situations."

"We are the hotbed, the cutting edge, of very important issues in our Internet age," Altenbern said. "You can get stuff out there, but how do you take that down?"

Altenbern added: "Meryem's case is but an example of a larger set of issues, a larger set of problems, a larger sense of social responsibility."

Salon's Andrew Leonard wrote about the lawsuit, and pointed out that users aren't Facebook's true customers; advertisers are. As a result, maybe Facebook's delayed response shouldn't be that surprising. This is the same company that manipulated people's emotions, after all.

Truly supporting consumers when you have in excess of 1 billion of them simply doesn't scale. It's expensive to have enough real human beings on hand to respond in acceptable fashion to consumer complaints. And that's especially true when we, the supposed consumers, aren't paying anything for the service we're getting. Because we're not actually Facebook's real consumers -- we're the product getting delivered to Facebook's advertisers. And you can bet, if someone set up a "revenge porn" page targeting a big brand that advertises on Facebook, the corporate reaction would be swift.

You might think, after a financial quarter in which Facebook generated nearly $3 billion in revenue, that the company would have enough money to staff up its support systems and make sure that complaints about atrocities like "revenge porn" received prompt consideration. But somewhere, a different calculus is probably operating: Maybe it's cheaper to deal with the occasional lawsuit as the cost of doing business, than pay the bill for an operation that responds to individual complaints on a timely -- and civilized -- basis.

Here's the plaintiff's original petition:

Facebook Petition by ajreiss2314


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