If your face appeared on Facebook as a promotion without your permission, you may want to check with a lawyer.
The social media juggernaut is paying $10 million in penance for placing the mugs of five recent lawsuit plaintiffs in sponsored ads that are highly lucrative for Facebook but earn bupkis for the owner of the face.
The plaintiffs won't see a cent, however. The money will go to an unspecified charity.
Protect Your Likeness
Despite the terms of service agreement all Facebook users accept when they start accounts authorizing CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Co. to use images as it sees fit, the company agreed to settle the case, with Judge Lucy Koh of U.S. District Court in San Jose upholding the merit of the suit, at least under California law.
"California has long recognized a right to protect one's name and likeness against appropriation by others for their advantage," she wrote, according to Reuters.
"This settlement is a major precedent upholding what Americans say they want: The right to control what happens to their material in commercial realms," Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, told us Monday.
Facebook's sponsored stories can appear anywhere on the network , connecting users with a product, group or company; and not even ones they are connected to. Just mentioning a product in a status update could reportedly trigger an ad.
The suit was settled in May but details were kept quiet for a month, emerging this week via Reuters. The $10 million settlement -- loose change to the multibillion-dollar company -- is likely a wise choice since a class action suit involving millions of Facebook users could have exposed the now-publicly held company to far greater losses.
Papers related to the lawsuit quoted Facebook executives saying that ads featuring a user's friends are two or three times as lucrative as more conventional ads, although the feature could in effect sabotage itself by making users less likely to post about products or click "Like" to join corporate pages.
Caring About Sharing
It's the latest privacy black eye for a company that depends on users' carefree sharing of photos and information, and particularly their likes or dislikes of anything from food to movies to airlines.
The Federal Trade Commission late last year censured Facebook for misleading privacy policies, for which Facebook agreed to privacy audits for the next 20 years.
Rainie told us we're likely to see increasing pushback against liberal privacy policies going forward.
"The case highlights the growing sensitivity of policymakers and the legal community to the privacy concerns of Internet users, especially those on social networking sites," Rainie said.
"In our surveys, we find that Americans want to be asked before something commercial happens to their information or their likeness. And there is a lot of case law from the pre-Internet era that enshrines that wish."