Facebook Offers Exhibit A In Its Defense Against Teen Lawsuit

Earlier today I reported on a class action lawsuit against Facebook which argued that when it comes to teenagers, the social network should not be able to use their name or likeness to promote either Facebook itself or on behalf of advertisers without parental consent. “If you don’t like the law, change the law, John C. Torjesen, one of the lawyers bringing the suit, tells me. “But I think people like that law.”

There are two main ways he says Facebook is using the names and likenesses of minors for commercial endorsements. One is through search. If you search for a teenager on Google, supposedly you will find a link to their Facebook profile, which brings you to a landing page enticing you to sign up or sign into Facebook to get the full profile.

But Facebook says this is just not the way it works. A Facebook spokesperson provided the following screenshot at left (click to enlarge), which I will call Exhibit A. It shows the part of Facebook’s privacy policy stating that the names or shared items of anyone under 18 are blocked from public search. “This isn’t available if you are under 18,” its privacy policy states.

The Facebook spokesperson elaborates: “We believe this suit is completely without merit and we will fight it vigorously. The complaint misunderstands the law, it’s intent and the way Facebook works. For example, plaintiffs assert that minors are marketing Facebook through search engines but we do not allow minors to include their profiles in search engines.”

You can still find teenager’s profiles and names turn up in search, but often that is because they lied about their age in Facebook. Torjesen would have to show this happening for a minor who Facebook knows to be a minor. So Exhibit A might help them there.

This does not, however, address those instances when a teenager “likes” an ad and that is shared in his or her stream, or ads targeted to people using other friends who are minors as endorsers (if that is even possible). Again Torjesen would have to show specific examples of ads like this and confirm that all the teenagers didn’t lie to Facebook about their age. That might be difficult to prove.

The one issue that might remain is when a teenager “likes” an ad, and that ad is linked to a Facebook page, and then it shows up in his or her friends’ streams that he liked that brand or product. Facebook has not answered my questions about whether or not that can happen, and my guess is that it can. But then we get back to my original question: how many teenagers actually like ads?