Two Los Angeles-area parents are suing Facebook over the Like button that appears in the social site’s ads. Robin Cohen and Marcia J. Orland are the class action plaintiffs, and they claim their respective adolescent children are being exploited for commercial purposes whenever they see a friend has “Liked” a Facebook.com ad. They say the Palo Alto, CA-based social site should obtain parental consent before using minors’ Like data for commercial purposes.
A prepared statement by the plaintiff’s attorney John Torjesen read: “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. We believe it is a clear case of exploitation of children for the sake of profits.”
Co-counsel in the lawsuit Antony Stuart added: “The consent of the minor for this commercial use of his or her name and likeness is not obtained by Facebook. Under California law, the minor’s consent cannot be obtained without the consent of the parent or guardian. Facebook makes no effort to obtain parental consent.”
Andrew Noyes, Facebook’s dedicated privacy spokesperson, responded with the following statement to ClickZ: “We believe this suit is completely without merit and we will fight it vigorously. The complaint misunderstands the law, it’s 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 plaintiff’s statement also says that the class action lawsuit was “filed on behalf of all California residents who are or were under the age of 18 and members of Facebook from Aug. 26, 2007 to Aug. 26, 2010 whose likenesses or names were used in a Facebook advertisement or landing page.”
Eric Goldman, associate professor of law at Santa Clara University, said the reason the lawsuit goes back three years is probably due to statute of limitations for this type of case. Goldman pointed out that the period of time mentioned in the complaint well proceeds when the Like button and users’ names became part of Facebook.com paid ads.
“I believe it’s treating more pages as advertising than you or I would characterize as advertising,” he said. “In that sense, you could go back to the beginning of Facebook and say every page on Facebook is an ad for something… That goes to the weakness of the complaint. We are talking about a specific type of ad. The square ads with the Facebook thumbs-up Like button in it are actually really recent. I don’t think that is the only thing they are complaining about. I think they are complaining about a whole lot more based on the ambiguous drafting of the complaint.”
Goldman then added, “I have a difficult time parsing the complaint and figuring out what the problem is. That’s never a good sign.”