Million and millions of U.S. Facebook users received an email last weekend that read LEGAL NOTICE OF SETTLEMENT OF CLASS ACTION - just like that, in all caps. It says that "a federal court authorized this notice," and that it's "not a solicitation from a lawyer."
It also tells you that you may be entitled to up to $10, coming directly from the deep pockets of Facebook.
Although it may sound like a scam (in fact it really, really sounds like a scam), you can rest assured that it is 100% legit. You can proceed with your claim without fear - but you may not want to.
This past weekend, another large group of Facebook users received the Settlement email, which stems from an ongoing class action lawsuit that was first filed in early 2012. Facebook settled the lawsuit, which claimed that the company had infringed upon the privacy rights of users when they used their likenesses, photos, and activity in Sponsored Stories ads without consent, compensation, or the ability to opt-out.
The initial settlement was rejected, however, and Facebook was forced to rework the terms. In December 2012, a judge issued a preliminary ruling approving the new terms: a $20 million settlement that will see the majority handed out to users or to various charities and advocacy groups. It all depends on how many claims are filed.
What Facebook has done, in the simplest of terms, is create a giant fund that can be used to pay class members. If you received an email, it means that you are eligible to sign on as a class member because your activity or likeness was used in a Sponsored Story prior to December 3rd, 2012. The amount that each claimant will receive depends on how many people jump in the pool. If too many people file a claim, and it's "economically infeasible" to pay out everyone, the fund will be distributed to around a dozen non-profits who all operate to "teach adults and children how to use social media technologies safely," or to "protect the interest of children.
Center for Democracy and Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Joan Ganz Cooney Center, Berkman Center for Internet and Society (Harvard Law School), Information Law Institute (NYU Law School), Berkeley Center for Law and Technology (Berkeley Law School), Center for Internet and Society (Stanford Law School), High Tech Law Institute (Santa Clara University School of Law), Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, Consumers Federation of America, Consumer Privacy Rights Fund, ConnectSafely.org, and WiredSafety.org.
If you received the settlement notice, you have five options. You can either submit a claim, which makes you eligible for the $10, but prevents you from joining any other action against Facebook in this realm. Or you can exclude yourself, which lets you retain your ability to sue Facebook in matters pertaining to Sponsored Stories. If you do nothing, you give up your right to both the money and future litigation.
There's also options to object to the settlement or attend a hearing, neither of which will really be considered by most users.
If you decide to file a claim, however, you should know that you'll be attesting to a few things that might be difficult to attest to (for the more informed Facebook user). As pointed out by Forbes, you'll agree that you were "not aware that Facebook could be paid a fee for displaying actions such as these, along with my name and/or profile picture, to my Facebook friends," and that you were truly "injured" by the display of your info in a Sponsored Story.
Anyway, all of the information you need to take any route is available on a dedicated site for the suit, fraleyfacebooksettlement.com
What's just as interesting as the cy pres settlement is the set of changes that Facebook has agreed to implement as a result of the ruling. Facebook has promised to add new language to its terms, making Sponsored Stories easier to understand for the average user. Facebook has also agreed to implement better mechanisms for viewing past activities that may have been featured in Sponsored Stories, as well as set up tighter controls on what appears in the future.
Here are all of those stipulations, as provided by the agreement in Fraley v. Facebook:
- Revise its terms of service (known as the "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities" or "SRR") to more fully explain the instances in which users agree to the display of their names and profile pictures in connection with Sponsored Stories
- 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 (if any)
- Develop settings that will allow users to prevent particular items or categories of content or information related to them from being displayed in future Sponsored Stories
- Revise its SRR to confirm that minors represent that their parent or legal guardian consents to the use of the minor's name and profile picture in connection with commercial, sponsored, or related content
- Provide parents and legal guardians with additional information about how advertising works on Facebook in its Family Safety Center and provide parents and legal guardians with additional tools to control whether their children's names and profile pictures are displayed in connection with Sponsored Stories
- Add a control in minor users' profiles that enables each minor user to indicate that his or her parents are not Facebook users and, where a minor user indicates that his or her parents are not on Facebook, Facebook will make the minor ineligible to appear in Sponsored Stories until he or she reaches the age of 18, until the minor changes his or her setting to indicate that his or her parents are on Facebook, or until a confirmed parental relationship with the minor user is established.
As far as the money goes, you have until May 2nd to submit your claim. Or you can do nothing, of course. Personally, I don't think I can file a claim that stipulates my ignorance on the fact that Facebook was making money off of Sponsored Stories. Plus, I don't find myself feeling particularly wronged by the concept of a Sponsored Story. And in the end, filing a claim is simply more of a hassle than it's worth.
But if you completely disagree with me (as I'm sure many do), and you received an email, you can proceed with the knowledge that this is all legit. Happy claims filing.