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Facebook Sues Ukrainian for Scraping, Selling Data of 178 Million Users

Facebook last week filed a lawsuit against a Ukrainian national who allegedly scraped the information of 178 million of its users and then sold the obtained information on hacker forums.

Facebook last week filed a lawsuit against a Ukrainian national who allegedly scraped the information of 178 million of its users and then sold the obtained information on hacker forums.

The defendant is Alexander Alexandrovich Solonchenko, whom Facebook says used the online monikers “Solomame” and “barak_obama” on the RaidForums hacker forum, where he allegedly sold illegally obtained information.

According to the social media giant, Solonchenko, who worked as a freelance computer programmer, abused its Contact Importer tool to scrape the user IDs and phone numbers of millions of Facebook users.

The Contact Importer feature in Facebook Messenger allowed users to upload their contacts from the address book on their mobile devices. Contact Importer included functionality that returned a one-to-one list of users whose phone numbers matched the ones uploaded from a phone’s address book — the purpose was to allow users to identify friends associated with the uploaded phone numbers.

The company said Solonchenko abused this feature between January 2018 and September 2019 to scrape user IDs and phone numbers for approximately 178 million users. The scraping involved automated requests that appeared to be coming from multiple Android devices — these were in fact Android emulators that mimicked real mobile devices.

Facebook took action in 2019 to prevent the tool from being abused for data scraping.

Facebook said the data scraped by Solonchenko was public, but his actions violated the company’s terms of service, which the Ukrainian agreed to since he had at least one Facebook account.

The social media giant also claims that, starting in October 2020, Solonchenko sold the scraped data on RaidForums. In addition, the man allegedly sold stolen or scraped data from a major Ukrainian bank, a major delivery service based in the country, as well as a French data analytics company.

The complaint says Facebook wants an injunction restraining the defendant from accessing Facebook and its products, an injunction to prevent him from selling or distributing the scraped data, and damages “in an amount to be determined at trial.” Facebook is seeking a jury trial.

Earlier this year, after someone made public information belonging to more than 500 million Facebook users, the company said the same Contact Importer feature had been abused to collect the data, before 2019, when it took action to prevent abuse.

This is not the first time Facebook has taken legal action against data scrapers. In January, it announced a lawsuit filed in Portugal against two individuals who had allegedly harvested Facebook user data via misleading browser extensions.

Related: Facebook Sues Four Vietnamese Nationals for Hacking Accounts

Related: Facebook Sues South Korea Data Analytics Firm

Related: Facebook Sues Namecheap Over Fraudulent Domains

Related: Facebook Sues 12 Fraudulent Domain Names

Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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