Facebook finds itself confronting yet another lawsuit. This claim alleges violations of relatively obscure New York laws involving the privacy of minors. The Plaintiff seeks class action status as well as a portion of the site’s advertising revenue. Apparently New York law demands that marketers obtain parental permission prior to utilizing a minor’s name or likeness for commercial purposes.
Facebook’s “social” advertising platform inserts friend’s names into ad copy to achieve higher click through rates. These displays don’t feature profile pictures; however, the site incorporates the names and profile pictures of users who “like” business pages. Users may access these fan lists at any time. The suit alleges that since there’s no opt-out mechanism in place to disable this function, parents have no control over their children’s information or image.
While the monetary reward seems small at this point in time, class action status would likely increase the financial stake exponentially. Before passing judgment on the social networking giant, remember that social ads are restricted to users’ friends lists. Consequently, social ads stem in part from user generated content. Instead of worrying about these promotions, concerned parents should keep track of the individuals their children communicate with online. Kids should not be talking to strangers in the first place; their cyber circles ought to consist of peers, relatives, and select trusted adults. As long as their preferences remain age appropriate, there’s no harm in teens letting their classmates know where they buy clothes at the mall or which gaming system they’re addicted to.
It seems as though these parents are missing the point of joining Facebook altogether. Part of the allure comes from sharing personal preferences with others, especially for young people. Tweens and teens view brands as integral aspects of their identities. In essence, becoming a “fan” of a page is akin to self expression. These likes collectively form a unique persona that reinforces offline interaction. Becoming a fan of a band, movie, store, or clothing company solidifies a teen’s place within a particular clique, such as jocks, skaters, preppies, etc. Though disabling public proclamations of allegiance compromises the delicate nature of teenage social status, parents can always control their kids’ clicks. In the end, parents, not Facebook, must take responsibility for their children’s behavior.