Is it too early to get out the monocles and top hats? If you haven’t already heard, Facebook may owe you an inordinate hefty existent amount of money. Okay, it’s $10. (But you know what they say about boring stories. You can always salvage them by tacking on the line, “Then I found $10.” So, close enough. )
Last week, Facebook made headlines when some users began receiving legalese-riddled emails about a class action lawsuit filed against the social network. They were legal notices of proposed settlement regarding a dispute involving Facebook’s Sponsored Stories feature. The suit alleges that Facebook “unlawfully used the names, profile pictures, photographs, likenesses, and identities of Facebook users in the United States to advertise or sell products and services through Sponsored Stories without obtaining those users’ consent,” the notice says.
The penalty is Facebook coughing up a sum to the tune of $20 million, to be put into a fund that, in part, would pay each person whose name or likeness was used – a cool $10.
And then, this weekend, I joined the $10 club when a notice showed up in my own inbox. So, assuming I have a small fortune coming my way, how should I spend the money? Here are some initial thoughts:
-Put it toward one tenth of the cost of my personal Facebook message to Mark Zuckerberg
-Switchblade mustache comb from Facebook Gifts, $8. (Related: Apparently there is no simple way to link directly to specific Facebook Gift product listings.)
-Promote a post I wrote last month about the Oakland Athletics and Snuggies, $7
–Google Plus sticker sheet, $10.95 (I’ll take the hit and add on the extra buck)
-Gas money. (No connection to Facebook, but come on, prices just rose.)
The suit also requires Facebook to revise its terms of service, including making it more explicit to users just they are being used in Sponsored Stories, and stipulating that the company “create an easily accessible mechanism that enables users to view, on a going-forward basis, the subset of their interactions and other content on Facebook that have been displayed in Sponsored Stories.”
Funny thing is, Facebook already created such a mechanism, but just chose to leave the Sponsored Stories details out. Isn’t that what the padlock button on the top right corner of the homepage was for? It was supposed to be a crystal clear privacy settings cheat sheet – apparently just not transparent enough to explain the advertising, monetizing secret sauce.
But in all seriousness though, the only way to receive the money would be for me to submit a claim form. And, as a journalist, I’d rather not put myself in any situation where the company would have to pay me money. I’m sure there is an ethical debate around this, and the circumstances of this particular situation, but I’d rather not touch it. In any case, some reports say that $20 million can only stretch so far, and so every person involved may not get his or her Hamilton. The notice also says that if economically infeasible to pay all claim submitters, donations will be made to not-for-profits that promote social media safety.
Just as well. But I would like to see what Sponsored Story I am supposed to have been a part of. I rarely “like” brands, but I often share links to my stories and other stories I find interesting. It’s a bit unsettling to not know what I’m vouching for to a larger online audience than I intended. Reading about a privacy flub in a headline – even if it’s a small one – is different when your own name is involved.
…and then I found $10.