The ads are part of Facebook's "enhanced" sponsors package, allowing advertisers to target users based on the interests and tastes of their friend network. Mention your obsession for Coca-Cola on Facebook, for example, and you could unwittingly appear on your friend's Facebook page endorsing the soft drink. It's brilliant marketing, really.
And it's also illegal when it comes to minors, according to a lawsuit filed this month in federal court in East St. Louis.
Laws on the books in all 50 states prohibit advertisers from using a person's name or likeness for marketing purposes without their knowledge. Facebook gets around the laws in the fine print of its users' agreement, with language waiving those rights. But can children under the age of eighteen really agree to such a contract?
That's the crux of the lawsuit filed by two Granite City mothers on behalf of their children. The suit argues that juveniles cannot legally enter into such a contract and that Facebook, which allows anyone thirteen and older to create an account, needs to change the conditions for enhanced ads.
"Facebook has two choices," says Aaron Zigler
, the St. Louis attorney representing the Granite City mothers. "It can either either get parental approval to allow minors to appear in enhanced ads, or it needs to get rid of that feature for its users under the age of eighteen."
Similar lawsuits have been filed in California and New York. Zigler tells Daily RFT
that the suit filed here is somewhat different because it's a class action and focuses on Facebook using a person's profile picture for its enhanced advertisements. He adds that his clients contacted Facebook to try to get their children opted out of appearing in enhanced ads, but could not do so.
Facebook has yet to file a response to the complaint, which seeks statutory damages and attorney fees.
How much could Facebook lose should the court agree with the Granite City mothers? That's anyone's guess. But here's a possible scenario:
Facebook operates under California law, which says that a person is entitled to $750 in damages or more each time an advertiser uses his or her name or likeness without consent. Multiply $750 by how ever many times a minor has appeared in one of Facebook's enhanced ads, and the figure could get pretty high very fast.
View a copy of the lawsuit below. Facebook Lawsuit
Have you seen those advertisements on Facebook that show one of your friends endorsing a certain product? The ad could be for a local restaurant or maybe a national retailer and features your friend's mugshot next to something saying that he or she "likes" the store or product.