Facebook slammed over children's privacy

Consumer advocates are calling on a federal appeals court to throw out a settlement with Facebook that they say does not go far enough to protect children’s privacy.

A group of parents and public interest groups are challenging a legal settlement from August intended to make it harder for the social media giant to use images of its 1.2 billion users in advertising.

Last year, the social network settled a 2011 class action lawsuit against the placement of users’ images in ads known as “sponsored stories,” which show people what their friends “like” on the site. Facebook agreed to pay $20 million in fines and charitable contributions and also pledged to allow parents to ask that their children’s faces are removed from ads.

The public interest advocates say that’s not enough. Instead of making parents ask for the images to be brought down, Facebook should have to go to them for permission first, they say. 

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On Thursday, Public Citizen and other organizations filed a brief with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the settlement.

Seven states across the country, including California, where Facebook is based, ban companies from using children’s images in advertisements without parents’ consent.

In the brief, the consumer groups say that the settlement allows Facebook to “flout laws designed to protect children from being co-opted into serving as unpaid endorsers in advertisements and from having a momentary online interaction as a teenager immortalized on the Internet — potentially to the minor’s future personal embarrassment or professional detriment.”

Margaret Becker, a parent from New York who is being represented by Public Citizen, said in a statement that the August settlement "lets Facebook make my daughter a shill and leaves me powerless to stop it.”

In a statement sent to The Hill, a Facebook spokeswoman said that the advocates' arguments were rejected last year.

"The court-approved settlement provides substantial benefits to everyone on Facebook, including teens and their parents, and goes beyond what any other company has done to provide consumers visibility into and control over their information in advertising,” Jodi Seth said.

“The same arguments on state law were raised and rejected by the court last year, and a dozen respected groups continue to support the settlement."

One of the organizations that received Facebook’s contributions last year, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, announced that it was rejecting the $290,000 it would have received because it objects to Facebook’s ad campaign.