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Facebook sues South Korean social media analytics company Rankwave

Rankwave analyzes social media users' data for marketing.

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Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook said Friday that it's suing Rankwave, a South Korean company that analyzes social media users' data for marketing purposes.

"Facebook was investigating Rankwave's data practices in relation to its advertising and marketing services," Facebook's director of platform enforcement and litigation, Jessica Romerosaid in a blog post. "Rankwave failed to cooperate with our efforts to verify their compliance with our policies, which we require of all developers using our platform."

Facebook alleges in the lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court in San Mateo County, that Rankwave breached a contract with the social network and violated a California law that prohibits unfair, unlawful or fraudulent business acts. Since 2010, Rankwave operated at least 30 apps on the Facebook platform. The South Korean company used data tied to those apps to create and sell advertising and marketing tools, which is against Facebook's rules, the suit alleges. 

In the court filing, Rankwave denied disobeying Facebook's policies, but the social network says the company didn't provide enough proof. Rankwave didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The lawsuit highlights how Facebook is trying to show the public and developers that it's taking privacy seriously in the wake of a series of scandals. Last year, revelations surfaced that UK political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica harvested the data of up to 87 million Facebook users without their consent. 

Consumers and businesses used Rankwave's apps. The apps had to get user permission before they could access any Facebook data.

A South Korean department store, tourism organization and baseball team used a Rankwave app to analyze and track information on their Facebook Pages. A Facebook Page is a public profile created by businesses, organizations and public figures.

The company also ran the "Rankwave app," a tool that lets users calculate their "social media influencer score" based on data about how many people interacted with their Facebook posts. That app was no longer on the Facebook platform as of March 2018. 

Facebook started investigating Rankwave in June 2018 and discovered the company wasn't complying with its platform policy. That's because Rankwave allegedly used Facebook Pages data tied to its apps for its own "business purposes," such as providing "consulting services" to advertisers and marketers. 

"To date, Rankwave has not participated in our investigation and we are trying to get more info from them to determine if there was any misuse of Pages data," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.

The social network tried to find out this year if Rankwave was also using personal information from users to provide marketing and advertising services. Rankwave failed to answer Facebook's questions or hand over information the social network requested, according to the lawsuit. 

Facebook suspended apps and accounts tied to Rankwave but didn't share which ones. Facebook didn't specify what type or how much user data may've been gathered by Rankwave.

Facebook argues in the lawsuit that Rankwave's alleged misconduct harmed the social network's reputation, public trust and goodwill. 

Originally published May 10, 4:44 p.m. PT.
Update, 6:07 p.m.: Includes background from lawsuit and statement from Facebook.