Advocates: 'Sponsored Stories' Need Opt-In Consent From Parents

by , Nov 8, 2012, 3:14 PM
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Facebook-Gavel-AA proposed class-action settlement that would require Facebook to allow minors to permanently opt out of "sponsored stories" should be rejected, two advocacy groups argue in new court papers.

The Center for Public Interest Law and Children's Advocacy Institute say that Facebook should be required to obtain opt-in consent from parents before using minors' names or pictures in sponsored-stories ads.

"Any settlement on this issue of commercial third-party expropriation of a child’s posted photos and information must involve the simple following element: If Facebook wishes to use the information posted online by a child, it must secure the advance permission of the parent," state the papers filed on Wednesday with the federal court in San Francisco.

The groups, both affiliated with the University of San Diego, are asking U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg to reject the deal.

Seeborg already nixed an earlier version of the settlement, noting that it didn't provide for compensation to users. The current version of the deal calls for Facebook to create a fund of up to $20 million to resolve claims that the sponsored stories ads violated a California law about endorsements. That law provides that companies need permission from people -- or parents, in the case of minors -- before using their names or images in ads.

The revised settlement explicitly states that Facebook will allow minors under 18 to opt out of appearing in all sponsored stories ads. Users over the age of 18 will have the ability to prevent appearing in future sponsored stories ads -- although apparently only on an advertiser-by-advertiser basis.

But the Center for Public Interest Law and Children's Advocacy Institute says that an opt-out regime won't protect minors from potential problems associated with sponsored stories, which publicizes "likes" to their friends. Although the deal requires Facebook to notify users about "sponsored stories," the groups argue that teens aren't likely to see those notifications, let alone opt out of the program.

"The proposed settlement’s warnings and notices are textbook adhesive fig leaves," they argue. "They do nothing for the 13-year-old who is striving to assert her independence, yet is still simply too young to grasp the reach of her digital citizenship -- a reach that could tarnish her reputation for years to come through a few thoughtless clicks of a mouse."

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