Facebook Parents Object to Use of Teens’ Images in Ads

File to overturn controversial class action settlement

A group of Facebook parents are seeking to overturn a recent class action settlement because it allows the social network to use teens' images in ads without parental consent.

Margaret Becker of Brooklyn, N.Y., decided to appeal the settlement after she saw her daughter being used in an ad promoting a band.

"I don't have a problem with my daughter mentioning on her Facebook page that she likes a band, that's what kids do on Facebook. But that's different than being in an advertisement. That's upsetting," Becker said in a press conference.

Finalized last August, the district court settlement requires Facebook to include new language in its terms of service stating that minors "represent" that their parents consent to the use of their names and images in advertising. But the agreement did not require Facebook to obtain direct consent, contravening law in California and six other states, including Florida, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.

"This settlement … permits Facebook … to flout laws designed to protect children from being co-opted into serving as unpaid endorsers in advertisements and from having a momentary online interaction as a teenager immortalized on the Internet, potentially to the minor's future personal embarrassment or professional detriment," wrote Scott Michelman, attorney for the Public Citizens litigation group in today's filing with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Several groups also filed amicus briefs including the Center for Digital Democracy, the Children's Advocacy Institute, and the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.

In opposition to the settlement, which awarded $20 million to Facebook users, CCFC turned downed the $290,000 it would be awarded, amounting to more than 90 percent of the organization's budget.

"Initially we were thrilled to be included. We originally thought minors would be protected in Facebook, but we began to have doubts. The protections are largely illusory," said Dr. Susan Linn, CCFC's director during a press call. “We could do a lot of good with $290,000, but we cannot benefit from a settlement which conflicts with our mission to protect children from harmful marketing. We hope this will help convince the court to vacate the settlement."

Facebook is working on a remedy that calls for teens 13 to 18 years old to let Facebook know if their parents were on Facebook and vice versa, giving them the opportunity to opt out.

Public interest groups charge that falls short because it only comes into play if both teens and their parents take action. "By putting the burden on kids and their parents, Facebook gets it backwards," said Michelman. "These remedies aren't true protections for minors' rights as defined by those seven states."

"The court-approved settlement provides substantial benefits to everyone on Facebook, including teens and their parents, and goes beyond what any other company has done to provide consumers visibility into and control over their information in advertising," spokeswoman Jodi Seth said in a statement. "The same arguments on state law were raised and rejected by the court last year, and a dozen respected groups continue to support the settlement."

Facebook is under a 20-year consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission, and is independently reviewing the case.

"I will be disappointed if the FTC takes no action," Michelman said.