Child Protection Advocacy Group Rejects Facebook Privacy Lawsuit Settlement, Asks Court To Reconsider

Facebook is notorious at this stage for playing fast and loose with users’ privacy. In 2013, the social sharing behemoth faced and settled a class-action lawsuit regarding its privacy practices. Today, one of the advocacy groups awarded a share of the settlement has reversed their stance, refused the payment, and is asking the court to reconsider the deal.

The suit, Fraley v. Facebook, charged that Facebook had used members’ likenesses and action without consent–including minors between ages 13 and 17. Facebook settled for $20 million, part of which was to be refunded to affected members of the plaintiff class (i.e. people on Facebook) as damages, and part of which went to nonprofit groups that are “involved in educational outreach that teaches adults and children how to use social media technologies safely, or are involved in research of social media, with a focus on critical thinking around advertising and commercialization, and particularly with protecting the interests of children.”

One of these groups, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, announced today that they are refusing their share of the payment, and urging the court to reconsider the settlement.

The CCFC filed an amicus letter (PDF) explaining their decision and calling on the court to reject the settlement “because it is bad for children.” The settlement is so bad, the letter goes on to say, that it is “worse than no settlement at all.”

The $290,000 payment the CCFC rejected is equal to about 90% of their annual operating budget. Organization director Dr. Susan Linn said that the group “could do a lot of good” with that money, but “we cannot benefit from a settlement which conflicts with our mission to protect children from harmful marketing.”

In their letter, the CCFC explained why the settlement is such a negative outcome for the junior Facebook set. First, they say, the privacy protections are opt-in rather than opt-out–so by default, no teenager will have them enabled.

Secondly, in order for the privacy protections to work, a teenager would either have to confirm that their parents are not on Facebook, or to connect with their parents as their parents (confirm the relationship) on Facebook. As we all know, high-school kids always love telling the complete truth online, and they also love bringing their parents into their digital social spheres at all times.

The CCFC actually knows something about kids, and writes, “Few children will identify parents who are on Facebook or indicate that their parents are not on Facebook.” But even if their parents are Facebook users, and the teens are willing to admit it, “few parents will take–or even know about–the additional steps required to disable Sponsored Stories.”

Parental competence aside, the CCFC adds, it doesn’t matter, because if Facebook continues using minors’ images in their ads without parental consent, they’re violating the laws of California, New York, Florida, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Public Citizen, another advocacy group, has filed an appeal to the settlement on the grounds that it violates those seven states’ laws.

Last year in the wake of the Fraley lawsuit and settlement, Facebook changed its privacy policy to indicate that all users’ images and content could be used in advertising. For users under age 18, the policy now says, “you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to the terms of this section (and the use of your name, profile picture, content, and information) on your behalf.”

Not sure if that’s quite good enough? Neither is the FTC. As of last September, the federal agency was looking into it.

Facebook Deal on Privacy is Under Attack [New York Times]
Facebook social ads settlement under fire from children’s advocates [Chicago Tribune]