Is Facebook violating the law?

Interesting question arising in the state of New York.  A new add-on to Facebook allows users to send ads to other users with pictures attached.  The legal question is, are these so-called “Social Ads” illegal, or violations of privacy?

That seems like a funny question to ask on a Social Networking site, but it is worthy of consideration.  Facebook users do agree to certain terms and conditions.  However, does that translate to a loss of all privacy?  And what if the user is a minor?

The New York Times quotes William McGeveran, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, who quotes the law in a blog post:

One who appropriates to his own use or benefit the name or likeness of another is subject to liability to the other for an invasion of his privacy.

The NYTimes post says Chris Kelly, chief privacy officer for Facebook, called and said McGeveran’s interpretation is too broad.  But McGeveran writes:

I don’t see how broad general consent to share one’s information translates into the specific written consent necessary for advertisers to use one’s name (and often picture) under this law. And the introduction of Facebook’s sales pitch about the program to advertisers leaves little doubt that individual users’ identities will be appropriated for the benefit of Facebook and advertisers alike.

I have a suspicion that Facebook will win this bout in the short term, but there will be a backlash as people begin to realize how precious privacy is.  Some Facebook users put much personal information online.  How long until we realize we’ve given up too much?

And rest assured that Facebook users are taking notice.  One user already created a group to protest: “Facebook’s Social Ads Are Illegal.”

At this writing, the group had one member.

Everyone else was probably busy updating their status.


  • kmatt

    I am indeed grateful to hear about this law.
    What many also bring up with this topic is the changes of Terms of Service and how many of these websites state in their agreements that one agrees automatically to any changes of service by agreeing to the terms.
    BUT… If I remember correctly – One party is unable to Unilaterally change the terms of a contract or service agreement without first obtaining the other parties consent before doing so.

    How would anyone know when to check a website so that they are aware of any changes have been implemented? and if they don’t agree with them, then what? Are they now able to Remove their information? are they able to leave that site as clean and clear as the day they went to it?

    I know for a Personal fact that is not always the case. Yes, indeed, I am grateful of hearing about this law. There is a commercial site in NY, that is holding my Name and all of my comments hostage. I have NO access to any of MY information, (I am unable to View or respond to the Majority of my comments and data); Which also means that there is no ability to respond to disparaging comments regarding my professional identity. I have NO access to my forum Members. Most importantly my name is being used without my permission.

    I asked them to remove, and they stated it was an inconvenience to them, but that they would be willing to “edit” several of my 8 years of posts for me, quoting their current TSA. What gives? They even are willing to EDIT my posts for me?

    When I joined the network, the terms of Service was indeed not the same as it is today.. I was not aware of any changes to the TSA, was not alerted, and the only time that I became aware of the damaging consequences was after the damages were in effect.

    What is really of interest is that The TSA also states that an individual is allowed to disable their account at anytime.. but, unfortunately I am not allowed the same privilege.. so, what gives??

    And today, they say that they have Non Exclusive Rights to my material, Yet then say they have full exclusive rights.. Quite Ambiguous No????

    Sometimes these laws may seem unfair to some, but, there are many TSA’s that also attempt take away the rights of the original authors, or the individuals who want to be able to control not only their Content, but their Name as well. Should we not have that right?

    Most individuals don’t realize the extent or even the problems that can occur when we randomly say Yes, I accept these agreements.

    Oh, and many think we can just sue, well, if one can find an attorney who is wiling to do it, it can cost a pretty penny!
    Karen M