A lawsuit challenging Facebook's "sponsored stories" can go forward, according to a federal judge in California.
Sponsored stories popped up in January as a way to connect "likes" and advertising. Facebook generates the ads when a user's friend "likes" a product, page or company. The ads contain the friend's image, name and endorsement.
A group of plaintiffs sued under California's right of publicity statute, arguing that Facebook misappropriated their names and images.
Facebook submitted a motion to dismiss on two grounds, but the judge found both issues to be anything but clear-cut.
First, the site argued that the sponsored stories are "newsworthy" and thus an exception to the rule. Users are "public figures" to their Facebook friends, which makes their "likes" a matter of public interest.
But the judge pointed out that purely commercial uses of newsworthy actions may nonetheless be misappropriation. She thus declined to dismiss on these grounds.
While a user cannot wholly opt-out of Facebook's sponsored stories, it can opt-out of individual advertisements. The issue of consent was thus too murky to dismiss the claim.
Though some think the ruling is a bad omen for Facebook's sponsored stories, it probably will have little effect. Chances are Facebook will just change its terms of service.
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