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B.C. Supreme Court approves $51M settlement for Facebook users

Images of Facebook users were used in advertising without their permission
The Facebook app is shown on a mobile phone screen. AP

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has approved a $51 million settlement reached in a class-action lawsuit between Facebook and its approximately 4.3 million users in B.C. and three other provinces whose photos were used without permission in the web giant’s “sponsored stories” ads.

The settlement affects anyone in B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba or Newfoundland and Labrador who registered with Facebook or had a profile photo posted between Jan. 1, 2011, and May 30, 2014, according to the settlement.

The lawsuit alleged Facebook violated the Privacy Acts of the four provinces and owed users damages for that breach.

The settlement says it “is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing or fault” by Facebook owner Meta Platforms and the $51 million is offered “in exchange for a full release by the class of all claims against them in issue in the class action.”

The lawsuit was formally approved by Justice Nitya Iyer in Vancouver this month after a settlement was announced in November by Meta and lawyers representing the representative plaintiff Deborah Douez.

Affected users are eligible to receive a maximum of $200 each, according to one of the lawyers, but most will get much less.

“It depends on the number of people who sign up” for payment, said Christopher Rhone of the firm Branch McMaster after the court approval. Take-up usually isn’t great for class-action lawsuits, he said.

In the U.S., the average take-up rate is usually five per cent, and for this case it’s expected to be 20 per cent, he said.

Class members can expect a payment between $20 and $55, or an average of $35, Rhone said.

Online sign-up forms, approved by the court, will be available in about two to three months, he said.

The case dates back to 2012, when Douez called a lawyer after a friend asked her about her endorsement on Facebook for an obstacle course race company.

Douez then learned from the website there was no way to opt out of what Facebook called “sponsored stories.”

At issue in the B.C. lawsuit was a Facebook policy that equates a user’s “like” of a product with permission to use the person’s name and photo in ads that appeared only on the pages of their Facebook friends. Companies paid Facebook to have those sponsored stories show up repeatedly.

For instance if a user clicked on a contest to win a trip sponsored by a company, Facebook took that as permission to make the user a spokesperson for that brand.

In an emailed response in 2012 when asked to comment on the proposed lawsuit, Facebook told Postmedia the “case has no merit and we will defend ourselves against it vigorously,” even though it was filed in a B.C. court four months after Facebook failed to get a similar U.S. court challenge dismissed.

If a user liked a page or a comment, RSVP’d to an event, voted on a page’s question, checked in to a place, used an app, played a game or shared a website before Facebook changed its policy in 2014, the policy said it could create a sponsored story with their name or photo.

It also said then on its website “Sponsored stories respects your privacy settings” and only shares them with people with whom the user was already sharing activities.

The settlement lists as class members those who at any time during the action’s defined three-plus years were registered with Facebook using their real name or profile photo and whose name, photo or both were used by Facebook in one of the ads.

But the FAQs on the website for class administrator MNP (, said, “It is not possible to determine if and when each individual Facebook user was featured in a sponsored story” and it’s likely any user in those four provinces likely was featured in at least one during the time frame and are therefore entitled to payment.

The law firms’ contingency fee of 331/3 per cent of the settlement for handling the class-action was also approved by the court.