Facebook is suing a Ukrainian national suspected of scraping and selling information from 178 million users on the platform in 2018-2019, according to American publication Insider.

According to the court documents, the hacker accessed and sold user IDs and phone numbers, violating the terms of service of Facebook. 

Data scraping, also known as web scraping, is the process of mass-importing information from a website into a spreadsheet or local file saved on a computer. It’s one of the most efficient ways to get data from the web, and in some cases to channel that data to another website.

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The social platform’s policy officially prohibits the unlawful use of user data, automated data collection, and the uploading of user data onto directories without Facebook’s approval.

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Ukrainian hacker Alexander Solonchenko allegedly exploited a feature in Facebook Messenger called ‘contact importer,’ which allows users to sync their phone address books and view which of their friends had Facebook Messenger.

The data was technically publicly available, but he sold this information on online forums for personal profit under the online alias ‘Solomane,’ according to the lawsuit filed on Oct. 28 against him.

The social platform is now asking judges to place a temporary injunction on Solonchenko to prevent him from accessing Facebook’s sites or selling their data.

Facebook also intends to seek an undisclosed amount of damages, alleging that Solonchenko was a prolific online hacker. 

According to the lawsuit, he allegedly previously sold stolen or scraped information from major Ukrainian banks and delivery services, and even a French data analytics company.

Facebook discovered the defendant’s fraudulent activity after linking his ‘Solomane’ username to contacts information uploaded onto job portals.

This is not the first time hackers have used this feature to scrape data from the website. In 2019, another user gathered 533 million Facebook users’ phone numbers and sold them online. 

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