Facebook Can Be Sued Over Its 'Like' Ads, CA Judge Rules

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on December 19, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A lawsuit challenging Facebook's "like" ads can go forward, according to a federal judge in San Jose.

Facebook rolled out the ads -- also known as "Sponsored Stories" -- in January without much fanfare. When a Facebook friend "likes" a product, page or company, the site generates an ad. It includes the friend's name, photo and an accompanying endorsement.

A group of users filed a lawsuit, arguing that Facebook had misappropriated their names and images.

California law makes it illegal to commercially use a person's name or image without first obtaining consent. The judge found that users did not consent to Facebook's "like" ads under the site's terms of service.

Facebook then tried to argue that consent was unnecessary because the included stories are "newsworthy." The relevant statute permits the use of another's image if done "in connection with any news, public affairs, or sports broadcast or account, or any political campaign." This exception only applies to matters of the public interest.

Facebook argued that the "like" ads are newsworthy because users are public figures to their friends. Facebook users arguably care what their friends are doing, buying and eating.

Still, the judge ruled that the exception does not apply to purely commercial uses of newsworthy actions. And Facebook's "like" ads are just that -- purely commercial.

Facebook will likely appeal the ruling, as its "like" ads are a large source of revenue. Expect the suit to make its way through the courts -- and for your picture to pop up in "Sponsored Stories" while it does.

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