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Class Action Lawsuit Alleges Facebook Online Advertising Violates Minors’ Privacy Rights

By | 09.03.10

Class Action Lawsuit Alleges Facebook Online Advertising Violates Minors’ Privacy Rights

September 3, 2010

Facebook’s introduction of the “Like” button has revolutionized online advertising. It has also opened the company up to yet another lawsuit. The class action suit, which was filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court alleges that Facebook misappropriated the names and images of minors for commercial gain without parental consent.

The suit, David Cohen v. Facebook (case #BC444482) seeks financial restitution from Facebook and third-parties that earned revenues and profits from the alleged improper activities.

At the heart of the suit is the Facebook ads that include likenesses and text descriptions of minors who clicked the “Like” button featured on the site’s ads without first obtaining parental consent.

The plaintiff’s attorney, John Torjesen, said, “When a teenager sees that their Facebook friends ‘Like’ an ad, it piques their curiosity, making them more likely to click the ad or visit the page,” and added, “We believe it is a clear case of exploitation of children for the sake of profits.”

The class action suit was filed on behalf of under-age Facebook users whose “names and likenesses were used in a Facebook advertisement or landing page.”

The complaint states: “Facebook encourages the participation of children on its social networking website, stressing the authenticity of the experience of communicating with friends. It then markets the names and likenesses of those children for us by advertisers, representing to advertisers that the use of the name and/or likeness of the child as an endorsement of the advertiser’s product can increase marketing returns by 400% compared to advertising that does not include an endorsement from the name or likeness of a child.”

In a statement, Facebook’s manager of public policy communications Andrew Noyes denied any wrongdoing by the company. “We believe this suit is completely without merit,” said Noyes, “and we will fight it vigorously. The complaint misunderstands the law, its intent and the way Facebook works. For example, plaintiffs assert that minors are marketing Facebook through search engines but we do not allow minors to include their profiles in search engines.”

The suit is not the first time Facebook has faced litigation arising from privacy concerns associated with its online advertising offerings. In 2004, Facebook launched its controversial Beacon advertising system which allowed information from external partner sites to be published on members’ News Feeds.

On September 21, 2009, Facebook announced that it would shut down the Beacon online advertising system and ultimately settled for $9.5 million. Approximately 20 named plaintiffs were awarded $41,000 from the settlement fund.

Privacy concerns have not slowed the social networking juggernaut’s exponential growth but most advertisers appear content to stick with more stable, conventional online marketing platforms like Google AdWords and IYP’s including SuperMedia LLC’s Superpages.com, at least for now.

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