Tuesday, January 14, 2014, by Christina Wheaton
On January 9, 2014, a Colorado man filed a class action lawsuit against Facebook in San Jose, California. Facebook users are able to create Facebook pages on the social network, often for companies or individuals, which may be “Liked” by other Facebook users. In his complaint, Anthony Ditirro claims that Facebook is “unlawfully using its customers’ likenesses and Facebook profiles to create a false impression that its customers are promoting a particular company or product without said customer’s knowledge or consent.”
Ditirro alleges that Facebook used his image to imply that he has “Liked” the USA Today Facebook page. He claims that while his image was used to promote the USA Today Facebook page in the News Feed of at least one of his Facebook friends, he never liked the page. He was unaware of this practice until his Facebook friends informed him that his image was being used. He also claims to have never even visited the USA Today website. Under California Law, an individual may seek damages when his or her image is used without permission. Ditirro seeks statutory and punitive damages of at least $750 per person for any user who has been featured in ads suggesting they liked a product or page when, in reality, they did not.
In his complaint, Anthony Ditirro claims that Facebook is “unlawfully using its customers’ likenesses and Facebook profiles to create a false impression that its customers are promoting a particular company or product without said customer’s knowledge or consent.”
Interestingly, Ditirro is not the only one who has noticed that Facebook is using his image without his consent to promote other Facebook pages. In 2012, some Facebook users noted that the social network was exploiting images of users who had passed away to promote particular pages or products through “Likes.” More recently, it has come to light that celebrities, business, and even the United States State Department, have purchased fake “Likes” on the social network. The practice is not confined to Facebook, as fake Twitter followers and YouTube viewers are also up for sale.
Facebook responded to Ditirro’s claim by saying the complaint is “without merit,” and that it plans to “defend [itself] vigorously.” And the social network will have the experience to do so, as this is hardly the first advertising related lawsuit to plague the company. In August of 2013, Facebook paid a $20 million settlement in a class action dealing with “Sponsored Stories.” “Sponsored Stories” displayed the images of Facebook users who have “Liked” a page in advertisements in their friends’ News Feeds. Following the settlement, Facebook announced its plans to terminate the practice of “Sponsored Stories” on April 9, 2014.
Facebook was hit with yet another class action lawsuit at the end of December 2013, alleging that the social network scanned users’ private messages without their consent in violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The complaint alleges that the information obtained was then sold to advertisers. It remains to be seen how the social network will respond to each of these lawsuits, as well as if the lawsuits will have any effect on Facebook’s advertising practices.