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.