The B.C. Supreme Court has certified a class action lawsuit launched by a Vancouver woman who claims Facebook is violating its users' privacy.
'When their names and portraits are being taken, and put into advertisements for the gain of the company, that's just wrong' - Christopher Rhone, Vancouver lawyer
Plaintiff Debbie Douez's lawyer Christoper Rhone says the case revolves around Facebook's January 2011 decision to feature its users in an advertising product called "Sponsored Stories."
Through the program, companies pay Facebook a fee so when their business is "liked" by users, that information is published to the users' friends as proof of their endorsement.
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Rhone argues no one should be able to use your likeness and name to endorse a product without your permission, claiming it violates B.C.'s Privacy Act.
"When their names and portraits are being taken, and put into advertisements for the gain of the company, that's just wrong," Rhone said.
Douez, a Vancouver videographer, says that's exactly what happened to her. Two years ago she logged on to the Facebook site "Tough Mudders" and clicked on the "like" button because it was the only way to get more information on the fitness company's programs. She also "liked" Ocean Village Resort in Tofino.
The next thing she knew, her name and photo were popping up on her friends' Facebook pages endorsing the companies she knew little about.
Douez, who does some marketing work herself, says Facebook is going too far.
"I think there's a very fine line to providing a service and manipulating the public. And I think this is a situation where people are being manipulated and in particular, manipulated for commercial gain," she said.
Facebook says consent automatic
Facebook argues users automatically give their consent when they sign up, or when they click "like" or take so-called "social actions" on web pages.
Some media reports have suggested you can "opt out" of endorsing sites, but Douez doubts that.
"I did change my privacy settings. In fact, I had the tightest privacy settings that you could have in a profile," she said.
"Yet, in this particular case, you are not allowed to opt out."
In its ruling authorizing the lawsuit, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin says one of the key questions to be decided is whether B.C. users of social media websites run by a foreign corporation have the protection of the B.C Privacy Act.
"Given the almost infinite life and scope of internet images and corresponding scale of harm caused by privacy breaches, BC residents have a significant interest in maintaining some means of policing privacy violations by multi-national internet or social media service providers," Griffin writes in her 74-page decision.
Douez said other B.C. Facebook users are welcome to join the class action suit.