Last year, a group of Facebook users sued the company, challenging the legality of the “sponsored stories” section that appears on the side of the screen when someone is browsing the site. Apparently, when a user “like”s a product, there is a chance the Facebook gods will turn that same “like” into what seems to be a form of endorsement, by including the “liker’s” name in the list of others who also like the product.
We are all familiar with these nifty little ads. My assumption is that people are less concerned about their names being included in advertisements such as “10 of your friends [insert names here] like The New York Times” and more concerned about being included in advertisements such as “10 of your friends [insert names here] like Slinky Toys.”
Nevertheless it is clear that Facebook did not want to stop these allegedly illegal practices, or at least not without putting up a fight. The “sponsored stories” in question are the heart of Facebook’s revenue model, and the company fought hard for the right to continue the practice. Forbes has estimated the settlement amount of this suit to be $123.3 million.
The class action suit was formulated on right of publicity law. Right of publicity law is a form of intellectual property law, and gives someone the right to prevent the unauthorized use of his or her name and likeness for the purpose of financial gain. Unlike other areas of IP law—such as copyright, trademark, and patent law—right of publicity law exists based on state statutes, rather than federal laws. This is intriguing, since most right of publicity cases we have seen in the past have dealt with public figures. Generally, private citizens base suits of this type on right of privacy law.
This legal battle settled out of court last month. According to the settlement documents, Facebook users will eventually be given the opportunity to opt out of being featured in these “sponsored stories.” In the meantime, however, remember to be careful what you “like!” As tempting as it may be to “like” NSYNC’s Facebook fan page as a way of staying up to date on any future reunion tour you might be hoping for, just keep in mind that those bosses, colleagues, and anyone else of professional importance on your friends list may very well be made aware of your secret boy band fandom. Not that I’m saying that’s a bad thing… just something to think about!