Advertiser Can't Proceed With Class-Action Against Facebook Over Demographic Targeting

A judge has denied class-action status to a Facebook advertiser that sued the company for allegedly overstating the accuracy of ad targeting on the platform.

In a decision issued Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton said Investor Village, operated by Louisiana-based Integrity Message Boards, had not shown its claims would be typical of other advertisers, or that damages could be calculated on a class-wide basis.

“Plaintiff failed to show that questions central to the validity of its claim and capable of classwide resolution predominate over their individualized counterparts,” Hamilton wrote.

The ruling allows Investor Village to proceed against Facebook individually, but doing so is often prohibitively expensive.

The decision stems from a battle dating to 2018, when Investor Village alleged in a class-action complaint that Facebook misrepresented advertisers' ability to target ads to users in specific demographic groups.

Investor Village alleged that it used Facebook's targeting platform to run ad campaigns targeted at specific demographic groups, but found that many “likes” came from users who didn't meet the targeting criteria.

For instance, Investor Village said that in August of 2015, it used Facebook's ad manager to run a campaign aimed at U.S. investors with more than $250,000 in household income, who owned homes and were between the ages of 45 and 65. Forty percent of the "likes" generated by the campaign came from outside that target group, the advertiser alleged.

Investor Village claimed it was misled by statements it saw Facebook's Ads Manager interface about ad targeting.

Hamilton said that claim wouldn't support a class-action lawsuit because Investor Village had not shown that all advertisers using the Ad Manager interface saw similar statements, or that everyone who saw those statements came away with the same views of Facebook's targeting capability.

“Many putative class members were not 'exposed' to the interface,” Hamilton wrote, adding that many advertisers use ad agencies or consultants to run campaigns.

She added that many advertisers who saw the interface had the kind of prior experience that “tends to preclude them from reasonably developing a 'false impression'” about Facebook's ad targeting abilities.

Many of the documents in the case were filed under seal, or with large portions blacked out.

Facebook urged Hamilton to preserve the confidentiality of those documents, but she ordered many of them unsealed within 10 days.

Facebook “understates the significance of the public’s interest in understanding the merits of this action,” she said in that portion of the order.

She also said that some of the document portions Facebook wanted sealed “appear to be nothing more than embarrassing discussions among defendant’s personnel about its targeting inaccuracy.”

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