A U.S. federal court judge ruled on Thursday that WhatsApp and parent company Facebook’s lawsuit against Israeli mobile surveillance software company NSO Group can go forward. Phyllis Hamilton, Chief Judge of the United Stated District Court of the Northern District of California, denied most of the arguments NSO Group made when it filed a motion to dismiss the suit in April (a copy of her decision is embedded below).
Last October, WhatsApp and Facebook filed a complaint alleging that NSO Group exploited an audio-calling vulnerability in the messaging app to send malware to about 1,400 mobile devices, including ones that belonged to journalists, human rights activists, political dissidents, diplomats and senior government officials.
WhatsApp and Facebook also claim that NSO Group developed a data program called Pegasus that extracted data, including messages, browser history and contacts, from phones, and sold support services to customers including the Kingdom of Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Mexico.
In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, one of NSO Group’s arguments was that its business dealings with foreign governments, which it said use its technology to fight terrorism and other serious crimes, granted it immunity from lawsuits filed in U.S. courts under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA). In her decision, Judge Hamilton wrote that NSO Group failed to qualify because it was not incorporated or formed in the U.S.
In an email to TechCrunch, a WhatsApp spokesperson said “We are pleased with the Court’s decision permitting us to move ahead with our claims that NSO engaged in unlawful conduct. The decision also confirms that WhatsApp will be able to obtain relevant documents and other information about NSO’s practices.”
TechCrunch has also contacted NSO Group for comment. When the lawsuit was filed in October, the company stated, “In the strong possible terms, we dispute today’s allegations and will vigorously fight them.”
Facebook is reportedly getting into the venture capital game, but for young entrepreneurs working in social media, ignoring or deleting that particular friend request could be the right call.
According to a report in Axios, the company is building up a corporate fund under the auspices of its “New Product Experimentation” team, which launched last year. The company posted a job opening looking for a “head of investments” for the new division and now has new job openings in the group for two “founder” positions in New York City and Menlo Park, California.
Axios reported that the role would “manage a multimillion dollar fund that invests in leading private companies alongside top venture capital firms and angel investors,” according to a now-deleted post. The new hire will join Shabih Rizvi, a former partner at the Alphabet-backed corporate venture firm, Gradient Ventures, who began his career in venture at KPCB.
While Facebook said that the new investment arm would complement the work that the company already does to support startups through accelerators and hackathons, investors at some of Silicon Valley’s venture capital firms were skeptical. Perhaps with good reason, since the group that houses Facebook’s new investment team is hiring its own “founders” and has already developed a few apps that could compete with existing startups.
“[Money] of last resort,” one investor wrote in a text. Another said it would be a way for Facebook to spot potential acquisitions early enough to avoid triggering antitrust concerns, which may be good for Facebook, but bad for startups. “[Facebook] can’t buy 100 million-user apps any more,” this investor wrote in a direct message. “It needs to buy them closer to 10 million.”