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Famous For Fifteen People: Is Everyone a 'Facebook Celebrity'? 95

An anonymous reader writes "In the Stanford Law Review Online, authors Frankel, Brookover & Satterfield discuss an ongoing lawsuit against Facebook where plaintiffs claimed the social network's 'Sponsored Stories,' displaying advertisements on Facebook including 'the names and pictures of users who have "Liked" a product,' violated the law. Facebook responded by asserting that '(1) Plaintiffs are "public figures" to their friends, and (2) "expressions of consumer opinion" are generally newsworthy.' The authors discuss the substantial impact this case might have on online privacy going forward: 'The implications are significant and potentially far-reaching. The notion that every person is famous to his or her "friends" would effectively convert recognizable figures within any community or sphere, however small, into individuals whose lives may be fair game for the ever-expanding (social) media. If courts are willing to find that nontraditional subjects (such as Facebook users) are public figures in novel contexts (such as social media websites), First Amendment and newsworthiness protections likely will become more vigorous as individual privacy rights weaken. Warren and Brandeis's model of privacy rights, intended to prevent media attention to all but the most public figures, will have little application to all but the most private individuals.'"
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Famous For Fifteen People: Is Everyone a 'Facebook Celebrity'?

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  • Facebook is Public (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rwv ( 1636355 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @05:46PM (#39000051) Homepage Journal
    If you "Like" something on Facebook, Facebook has every right to let your Facebook Friends know you liked that thing. This is crazy to say this specific thing is a privacy invasion. Don't "Like" things that you don't want your Friends knowing you like!
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by lightknight ( 213164 )

      Fair enough. But let's be honest -> the new idea mill at Facebook has long since run dry; when I say that, I mean they're resorting to sales and marketing gimmicks, chasing nickels and quarters. The people invested in the company are cashing out. That's not 'good,' for the longevity of the platform.

      And on a slightly related topic, Google Plus, which was off to a decent start (trying to avoid making the same mistakes as Facebook) needs an identical amount of TLC. The two firms are just copying one another

    • by eln ( 21727 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @05:54PM (#39000151)
      When you "like" things, you get updates from those things. It is conceivable that someone would want to see updates from some organization while not wanting their friends to know they like that organization.

      Having said that, it's been clear from Facebook's inception that your "likes" are public (at least to your friends) information. It would be nice if you could pick and choose who saw your likes similar to how you can pick and choose who sees your statuses, but Facebook isn't under any legal obligation to make that happen.
      • by F'Nok ( 226987 ) * on Friday February 10, 2012 @06:02PM (#39000253)

        You can set it to not display your likes.

        On your favourites page you can individually control the visibility settings for the different categories of likes (Music, Book, Movies, etc) and under them is Other pages you like.

        So no, your likes don't have to be public at all.
        You can limit them to only me or a specific group of friends, through to friends of friends or everyone.

      • Or that they just don't want their name and image being used to actively promote a product or brand. Is wanting to passively support something so wrong?
        • It's not wrong, but if you want to privately support something you don't do it via a third party. Facebook is like the most gossipy person you've ever met. If you agree with something someone says, but you want to do so privately, you tell that person, you don't tell the gossip who is going to tell everyone else. Sadly, some people still seem to be under the impression that Facebook is a private channel, in spite of repeated (mainstream) news stories to the contrary.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by JasperHW ( 710218 )
        Real life example - I (back when I had an FB account) "like"d NewYork RoadRunners. Anyone who has ever talked to me about them knows that I vehemently detest them on multiple grounds, but they happen to be the organizers of the NY Marathon and have a practical monopoly on street permits for all the other smaller races. NYRR started releasing information about when registration opened for popular races (in this case - the Brooklyn Half-Marathon) on FB only and no where else. If you didn't "like" them, you
    • by Pope ( 17780 )

      True, but what about all the FB Social Plug-ins that advertise which of your friends read or "Liked" a story on a 3rd party site, not something that's on FB itself?

    • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @06:04PM (#39000275)

      If you "Like" something on Facebook, Facebook has every right to let your Facebook Friends know you liked that thing.

      Perhaps people are finally realizing that the limits placed on corporations regarding the handling of personal data is grossly in favor of the monentization and re-use of their information for purposes which the majority of people would disagree with? If that is so then any government claiming to be "of and by the people" should draft legislation assuring that the traditions and customs of its citizens be upheld.

      This case goes to the heart of that, by weighing a legitimate public interest against a private interest which is worth many billions of dollars and built entirely on a misconception by the public of what information may be shared, and what may not be shared. Let's be clear here: Facebook's entire privacy and business model has been under intense scrutiny by privacy advocates because it often intentionally misleads its users, often reverses itself in the face of criticism, and has been a frequent target of high-profile publicity as people became aware of it. All of this strongly indicates that the people using the Facebook service are fully aware (or told) how this information may be used. Now that it is about to become a publicly traded company, it seems essential this matter of law be resolved.

      Afterall, once something is on the internet, it doesn't leave. That can be a real problem for anyone searching for a job, should the wrong thing become public. And by real problem, I mean real unemployment and personal hardship. This is not just a matter of "privacy" -- it has fast become a matter of survival.

    • its the problem of SCOPE

      if my image is used as one of X images FOR FOLKS ON MY LIKE LIST i could see that being legal


      if my image is being used as part of a public ad campaign that could be a problem

      (btw this trend of companies giving coupons out and requiring you to LIKE them is a bit hinky worse if you have to do a wall posting or they do a wall posting FOR YOU)

      • by rwv ( 1636355 )

        trend of companies giving coupons out and requiring you to LIKE them

        I actually don't come across this except from my one Facebook Friend who owns his own small business. Every week or so his company offers some new "Like this to Enter a Contest" offer. I avoid them, but I respect that this behavior is a GOOD way for little people to create word-of-mouth advertizing for their products. OTOH, I've seen huge companies who doing the same thing. I guess I have no specific problem with that either... because ads like those let me know that those companies DON'T GET SOCIAL MED

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      The first hint that they do not care about your privacy is that they demand and show your real name.

      Unfortunately it means that this generation grows up with the idea of "If you have nothing to hide, why keep it private?"

      • Actually Facebook has no means of verifying that the name orange other information you give them is real.

        It would in fact be vulnerable to an exploit by bots that randomly ( or purposefully) generate bogus user profiles complete with networks if friend, fake histories, likes, etc. Nobody has any idea how many of Facebook's touted. 800M-odd users are actual persons.

    • by JohnnyMindcrime ( 2487092 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @08:10PM (#39001761)

      And what's worse is that you (rightfully) feeling that you have to remind people of that fact probably says a lot about the state of our society today.

      There used to be a time when parents and teachers educated young people about how to behave in public and that's why old gits like me don't swear in front of other people unless you know them really well, always look over their shoulder when going through a door just to make sure that nobody right behind gets the door slapped in their face, lowers the volume of their voice when speaking on a mobile phone in public, etc.

      Yes, it's old fashioned but if I see someone demonstrating those types of behaviours then I know that person understands the concept of what it is to be in a society with other people living in it and, even if I haven't got a clue who they are, they automatically get some respect from me just because they clearly understand that.

      The problem these days is that standing out from the crowd and celebrity status seems to be actively encouraged and has given birth to a lot of people who have no concept of anything outside of themselves - and, no, I don't mean self-obsession or arrogance, necessarily, but people who just can't visualise themselves as being part of a crowd where everyone else in that crowd has probably the same motivations and needs that they themselves do.

      To describe such people as "rude" doesn't actually work because in order to be classified as rude, you need to be shown as deviating from what is normally acceptable behaviour - and many of these people don't have a clue what acceptable behaviour is because they have never been taught it.

    • by croddy ( 659025 )

      Okay, but the claim that every user of their website qualifies as a public figure is ludicrous and insane. It's a great example of just how out of touch Facebook's leadership are with common respect for privacy. Today, merely not "liking" things may be enough, but it is clear that Zuckerberg and his thugs have no sense whatsoever of where to draw the line.

      • by Deorus ( 811828 )

        Sharing things is one of the fundamental aspects behind the concept of social networks. If you don't like doing that, then you don't like social networks and have absolutely no business subscribing to them. I, for example. only have a LinkedIn and a Twitter account, because I don't care about sharing and I don't care about what others share. Twitter is acceptable because although I receive a lot of spam from it, posts are limited to 140 characters and I don't get to see embedded movies and images.

    • So if for example I were to indicate that I liked engaged in sexual acts with people of the same sex as me, Facebook has every right to tell me parents about it?

  • Wha? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by residieu ( 577863 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @05:48PM (#39000071)
    Why would you Like something on Facebook if you didn't want people to know you liked it? This is like complaining that when you make a comment on a Friend's wall, Facebook shows that comment to your friend.
    • Why would you sign up for something that is designed to push your personal life into a wider audience then complain about any privacy violation?
    • Re:Wha? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @09:23PM (#39002223)

      Not quite. It's like making a comment on your friend's wall, and then being surprised that that comment shows up in an ad for facebook that is shown to your entire friend list.

      It's distorting your intended use of the action.

      Yes, FB's TOS says that it can do whatever the heck it wants to your data, but it still is not something that people would expect. I'm wondering if there will be space for a paid version of facebook....

      • I got a little lost in the summary, but this entire case seems to hinge on a Venn Diagram.

        (Circle) "People and context I expect to see my post"
        (Bigger Circle) "Context that Facebook actually uses my post, including Truman Show style ads to show that FREDDY LIKES SCHLITZER HOT DOGS!"

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Because "Like" for Facebook pages doesn't mean what it sounds like. "Follow" (which is what Google+ and Twitter call the same concept) would be more accurate.
  • by DangerOnTheRanger ( 2373156 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @05:49PM (#39000087) Homepage Journal
    ...why in the world are they on Facebook?
    • The issue goes beyond Facebook. Slashdot could use the same model. So could Amazon. And G+. And Flickr. And... well, you get the point.

  • So don't "like" things? What would be the point of "liking" something if you didn't expect others to see that? This is a really stupid lawsuit.

  • Famous? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tgv ( 254536 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @05:54PM (#39000155) Journal

    IANAL, but since when does lawyer mean "someone who reinterprets every word in a new and twisted way, just to make profit"? But hey, If they make this new definition of "famous" stick, then we can redefine "lawyer" to mean whatever we want. I'm proposing to redefine it as "Anser fabalis", given that to me the sound of a lawyer is a loud honking, which has the side-effect that we would be legally entitled to cooking them.

    • by dwye ( 1127395 )

      If we change "just to make a profit" to "just to get what they or their clients want, regardless" then I expect that the answer is: at least back to the time of Cicero. The only nice thing about lawyers is that, before they took over, people used to get what they wanted by hiring mobs (or demagoguing them, ala Mark Anthony's Ovation in Julius Caesar, or Cicero's Against Catiline) to kill their opponents (and, usually, their families, as well).

    • by Tom ( 822 )

      IANAL, but since when does lawyer mean "someone who reinterprets every word in a new and twisted way, just to make profit"?

      Since ever. It was only when I worked a lot with the lawyers that I realized how geeky (in their own way) they are.

      Just like MUST, SHOULD, CAN, etc. have precise, exactly defined meanings in RFCs, so do words in legalese have precise, specific meanings. Apparently, the term "famous" has not yet been defined legally, so it's a proper attack vector.

      And lawyers don't just reinterpret words. It is their job to get the interests of their clients seen to, no matter how. The bar associations put limits on what the

  • by Gideon Wells ( 1412675 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @05:55PM (#39000169)

    My opinion on this matters on one detail that I am not seeing in the summary, and can't seem to find in the TFA. If they use myself for an advertisement. Is it an advertisement only seen by people I'm friends with or everyone?

    If the former, it sets a disgusting precedent, that along Google's new social search, might be just barely ruled legal depending on the judge. This would be a step from going from losing privacy to a creep of losing even control of your own identity to corporations.

    If the latter, this isn't just a creep. This is full blown jumping off the ledge. There is no way in hell a Judge could find this legal. At this point FaceBook needs to be slapped down hard, very hard.

    • Re:Tl;DR version (Score:5, Informative)

      by Dahamma ( 304068 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @06:22PM (#39000527)

      It's even more complicated than the botched summary makes it out to be.

      The *plaintiff* was the one to claim that they were famous to their friends (in which case they felt as a celebrity endorsing a product they deserved compensation). Facebook basically argued if they were famous to their friends, then their public expression of a consumer opinion was "newsworthy", in which case the use of their likeness was fair use protected by the First Amendment.

      Basically, a bullshit answer to a bullshit lawsuit...

  • On one hand.. this should require an opt-in the likes of which ANY company needs to "share" a customers data.
    on the other hand.. If you act like a fool in public, expect to end up on the news... and probably in it's advertisements.

  • Counterview (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sakdoctor ( 1087155 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @06:05PM (#39000295) Homepage

    I know the officially sanctioned slashdot view point is that the user is a stupid worthless victim, or even the product (derp), but I think that when a company acts in a way the majority of users wouldn't expect, despite that they agreed to the incomprehensible terms and conditions, and despite getting the service for "free", then there is something amiss, and buyer beware isn't enough.

    Stronger data protection laws are needed to prevent the total rape of people's privacy. In some countries for example, it is illegal to have a box ticked by default to opt into something, and what social networks can do with people's data needs to be ring-fenced.

    • Who says that the majority of users agree with the plaintiffs views? I'm sure you have some evidence, right? Liking things has always defaulted to being public. Only an idiot would only just now realize this.

    • by Deorus ( 811828 )

      You share your personal data online, that's bound to happen. Only someone extremely stupid would think differently.

  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @06:13PM (#39000393)

    There is a difference between liking something, endorsing it and shilling for it. For instance, I like my Honda and the dealer from which I bought it, but I made them remove all the dealer stickers from the vehicle as a condition of the sale. They're not paying me to advertise for them.

    Facebook is making money from the advertising they push out to users and, presumably, from the advertising they stick your photo into, but where's your cut for use of your likeness? Yes, one can simply not "like" a product, but that's besides the point. Even though I might actually like a brand of Vodka and want to tell my friends about it, I don't really want a picture of me shilling for it - unless I specifically agree (and get paid) for it.

    I'm sure it's all covered in the Facebook "terms of service", but that doesn't make it right. It's actually a moot point for me as I don't have a Facebook (nor Twitter) account - and never will. (Though there's probably a "shadow" Facebook account - bastards.)

    • by s4m7 ( 519684 )

      I'm sure it's all covered in the Facebook "terms of service", but that doesn't make it right

      Why not? Agreeing to TOS is important for a variety of reasons. In most cases agreement to TOS is what permits a service to host your media (writings, photos, videos, etc.) because without it you would retain copyright of the work, and sites would be liable for everything. Take away the viability of TOS agreements, and you take away the ability of most websites to operate in useful ways.

      • I'm not sure where you're going with this. I don't have a problem with TOS or the fact that Facebook's use of you uploaded content is probably spelled out there. My issue is with them actually using your content. You're already supporting their revenue stream by selecting "Like".
      • by Anonymous Coward

        TBH, Facebook's TOS is pretty much meaningless since they can change it whenever and however they want. They make it damn clear it's the users responsibility to keep upto date with the TOS, which by their own admission can have changes that only need 3 days notice before coming into effect.

        Seriously, who reads the TOS of a website every 3 days?
        What happens when you go on holiday for 2 weeks and come back to find for the last week FB have granted themselves the right to use your profile to advertise goatse.c

    • For instance, I like my Honda and the dealer from which I bought it, but I made them remove all the dealer stickers from the vehicle as a condition of the sale. They're not paying me to advertise for them.

      Yes they are. They're giving you a car for a price that assumes in part that most people who pay that price won't be so uptight as to demand the stickers be removed. If they take them off on request then great, but unless you have a major issue with allowing people to gain more from dealing with you than the minimum they are entitled to I don't see why it's worth the effort.

      • but unless you have a major issue with allowing people to gain more from dealing with you than the minimum they are entitled to I don't see why it's worth the effort.

        I'm not sure what you mean here. I bought the car from Honda through the dealer. I gave them money, they gave me a car - fee for service. The dealer is not "entitled" to anything else. In the context of Facebook, users already support Facebook's revenue stream by selecting "Like".

        • That was exactly my point. They're not entitled to use your car as a carrier of their stickers, but most people don't care if they have a sticker on their car or not, and I doubt you do either; you're just going out of your way to make sure that Honda don't get any bonus value out of your purchase of the car.

          The car analogy differs from the Facebook issue in that there is no ongoing license agreement to make the advertising mandatory, but the reason people accept the advertising is the same; the "cost" of b

          • but most people don't care if they have a sticker on their car or not, and I doubt you do either

            I can't speak for him, but why would you assume he doesn't care? Lots of people, including myself, do care about things like that, there's no reason to think he isn't one of them. I, too, don't like being an advertisement and avoid it when at all possible.

            And that's part of why I don't use Facebook.

        • by dwye ( 1127395 )

          > I bought the car from Honda through the dealer. I gave them money, they gave me a car - fee for service.

          Did you insist that the dealer remove the Honda logos from the vehicle, as well? After all, you bought the car from Honda, without specifying that you would advertise their product in any way, didn't you?

          Not that I don't sometimes agree with your sentiment. My father damaged our Chevy Citation, two weeks after he bought it from the dealer, and insisted on paying $24.95 for the replacement Chevy emb

          • Did you insist that the dealer remove the Honda logos from the vehicle, as well?

            Someone else mentioned this and, no, I didn't remove them. They are very permanently affixed and/or done so through holes in the body. But I consider the Vendor and Dealer stickers as different things. The Honda emblems come with the vehicle while the Dealer ones were added after the fact. Also, in a resale situation, others would expect the Honda emblems to be present as part of the vehicle. Car dealers rape their victim

    • by jamesh ( 87723 )

      Your "cut" is that you get to use Facebook without paying any money for it.

      • Your "cut" is that you get to use Facebook without paying any money for it.

        Of course users get to support Facebook's revenue stream by simply marking "like". The re-purposing of your posted photos is gratuitous.

    • by mortonda ( 5175 )

      Facebook is making money from the advertising they push out to users and, presumably, from the advertising they stick your photo into, but where's your cut for use of your likeness?

      The *free* use of their service?

      • The *free* use of their service?

        Users support Facebook's revenue stream by simply checking "Like". The re-purposing of your photos is gratuitous.

        • by mortonda ( 5175 )

          And what about the whole, "hook up with long lost friends, post as many baby pictures as you want for grandma to see" The whole website is free. You get what you pay for.

    • by Cabriel ( 803429 )

      Did you remove all Honda branding from your vehicle? I guess, now, it doesn't matter because we all know you drive a Honda. There's you telling everyone on Slashdot what you bought which is the same mechanism for likes on Facebook. FB isn't saying you endorse the thing or are shilling for it. All Facebook is doing is telling your own friends that you clicked a button marked "Like" just like you announce to everyone around you when you drive that you own a Honda.

      • Did you remove all Honda branding from your vehicle?

        True, I didn't, but removing them would damage / deface the vehicle as they are either very permanently affixed or done so with hole through the body. I might argue that your analogy is a little off by my equating Facebook == Honda and Dealer == Facebook Ads. I'm not trying to start an argument, but lighten up.

    • Social networking is fine provided that you fully understand the concept that nothing is for free. Somebody has to pay vast amounts of money for the servers and data centres that provide all of this stuff, and ultimately that's paid for from advertising revenue and selling your data.

      Well, whilst most of us don't like advertising, it came about long before Facebook ever appeared and we accept it as a "necessary evil" and all like to think that it doesn't influence us. And if you filled in and sent off a comp

    • Worse than shadow profiles, there is a publicly viewable profile with my full name on it in Facebook. No idea how it got there. It has *no* information in it. Nada.

      While I would prefer it was not there, the process to remove it is ridiculous.

      You have to give them:
      Full Name
      Phone Number
      email address
      And a scan of your government I.D.!!!!

      Why the hell would I give them all that information to remove a profile that has no information associated with it? So, there it stands, mockingly.

  • Lawyers please chime in, but as I understood it the right of publicity is for celebrities, who stand to make money from endorsements(advertising). Why would FB want to argue that users are public figures?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    At issue is not the silly "like" button. As most of you point out, my friends know what I like and don't like anyway. Also, the accusation is fairly lame. What is interesting is the defense, however. They don't just say "if you don't like your friends to know all your likes disable and enable them individually", which would have been very natural. They go one gigantic step further. They say: "everybody is a celebrity to their friends. Therefore, the limited privacy rights of celebrities apply as lon

  • Just say you like 20% of the things you don't care about, and don't click on 20% of the things you do secretly like, and you are statistically invisible, because 40% of people are even bigger phonies than you are. Occasionally, you will still get a car ad when you really were interested in a car. Big big whoop.
  • If I "Like" Cheez-its on Facebook, and they use that information in an advertisement, aren't I entitled to compensation for my endorsement?
  • by WillAffleckUW ( 858324 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @08:04PM (#39001731) Homepage Journal

    All this misses the point.

    The lack of privacy used by FB violates the Privacy rights of Citizens of Canada and the EU who live in the US, under the Data Privacy treaties that the US is signatory to.

    No amount of pretending people are public figures will change that basic fact.

    Even for those of us who may or may not be infamous on the Net. Not that I'm admitting anything.

    You can't make me sign away my Canadian Constitutional Rights.

  • Being a friend to someone outside of facebook does not give me the right to break privacy laws with those people. Being my friend doesn't make them a public person.

    Why would FB be any different.

  • by Fulminata ( 999320 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @10:05PM (#39002439)
    One problem with the way things work now is that some companies use deceptive means to get "likes." For example, Duracell sponsors ads saying "Love Star Wars? Click 'like' here!," with "sponsored by Duracell" in small type at the bottom. I'm sure if someone clicks that they'll soon show up on their friends page in ads that imply that they are endorsing Duracell.
  • Otherwise they will owe FB a zillion dollars in attorney fees. The law they are suing under, Cal. Civil Code Section 3344, is one of a very few California statutes that provide for a mandatory attorney fee award against a losing plaintiff or plaintiffs.

    In nearly all other types of lawsuits brought under California law, there is no award of attorney fees against losing plaintiffs unless there is an attorney fee clause in a contract, or the lawsuit is deemed legally frivolous.

I am more bored than you could ever possibly be. Go back to work.