Facebook is facing another class-action, this time in Federal Court in Illinois, charging it used minors in its advertising. Although I haven’t done a search, there are at least two or three others – federal actions in California and New York and at least one state lawsuit filed in Southern California. In each of these cases, the allegations are essentially the same. Facebook takes user names, pictures and preferences, using the "Like" buttons, and then mashes or moshes (that word is the pits) them with paid sponsorship and advertising to target specific ads – sometimes referred to as "enhanced" or "premium" advertisements. The user’s name or likeness can be "pushed" to their Facebook friends – presumably people who the user has specifically permitted to be able to see such information; and also presumably by becoming a "friend," they, in turn, have manifested a desire or interest to know what the individual is doing, what she or he likes, opinions, where they are and what they are doing.
Aside from issues of free speech, voluntary opt-in and parent consent, especially where the individual is a minor and their name, image or likeness is used in an "ad" (and it’s not clear or settled that these are all "advertisements"), a question arises as to whether section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act insulates Facebook from liability as a neutral communications platform that doesn’t control what each individual does or offers – so long as they act in accordance with Facebook’s terms and conditions. Some commentators point out, however, that in 2007, a Federal Appeals Court in California (9th Circuit Court of Appeals) held that Roommates.com was not immune when their users posted ads that were illegal under the Fair Housing Act (See, Fair Housing Council v. Roommates.com LLC [PDF]. That said, in the Roommates case, the ads were, to some extent, structured, and categories of content and information for the ads encouraged, if not solicited, populating the database of advertising for roommates using the website. Facebook may well argue that simply providing a "Like" button and making it available for use, is no different from a brand owner making a gadget or widget icon available should a user want to place it on their site. The "platform" – in this case Facebook – has no part in the user’s decision, nor is it offering to customize the user’s "Like" decision in any way that could be construed as editing or adding new content as a publisher.
One thing is very clear. Nothing is clear. Stay tuned!