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Facebook Sued Over Social Ads Using Minors as Endorsers Without Permission

Facebook Inc., the world’s most popular social-networking site, was sued for not getting parents’ permission before displaying that minors “like” the products of its advertisers.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of Facebook users in New York state under the age of 18 who had “their names or likenesses used on a Facebook feed or in an advertisement sold by Facebook Inc. without the consent of their parent or guardian.” The suit was filed in federal court in Brooklyn yesterday.

Facebook began offering “social ads,” which display the names and likenesses of users’ Facebook friends who click on the ads’ “like” button, in November 2007, according to the complaint. The names or likenesses are also displayed to friends when a user RSVPs for an advertised event, according to the complaint. The endorsements also show up on Facebook friends’ home-page feeds.

“Users can prevent their endorsements from being shared with their friends by limiting who can see their posts through their privacy settings,” according to the complaint. “There is, however, no mechanism in place by which a user can prevent their name and likeness from appearing on a Facebook page if they have ‘liked’ it.”

The suit was filed by Justin Nastro, a minor in Brooklyn, through his father, Frank Nastro. Facebook doesn’t seek parents’ permission for the minor users’ endorsements, according to the complaint.

The suit invokes the New York Civil Rights Law, which prevents using a person’s picture for advertising purposes without that person’s permission. The law allows suits for damages. The Nastros’ suit seeks revenue Facebook derived from the unauthorized commercial use of the names and images.

“We have not received the complaint so I’m unable to comment at this time,” Andrew Noyes, a Facebook spokesman, said in an e-mail yesterday.

The case is Nastro v. Facebook Inc., 11-cv-2128, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).

To contact the reporter on this story: Thom Weidlich in Brooklyn, New York, federal court at tweidlich@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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