Learn more about our policy experts.

Media Contacts

Angela Bradbery, Director of Communications
w. (202) 588-7741
c. (202) 503-6768
abradbery@citizen.org, Twitter

Don Owens, Deputy Director of Communications
w. (202) 588-7767

Karilyn Gower, Press Officer
w. (202) 588-7779

David Rosen, Press Officer, Regulatory Affairs
w. (202) 588-7742

Nicholas Florko, Communications Officer, Global Trade Watch
w. (202) 454-5108

Other Important Links

Press Release Database
Citizen Vox blog
Texas Vox blog
Consumer Law and Policy blog
Energy Vox blog
Eyes on Trade blog

Follow us on Twitter


Sept. 24, 2013

Public Citizen Appeals Settlement That Allows Facebook To Violate Minors’ Privacy Rights

Under Settlement Approved by District Court, Facebook Can Continue Violating Privacy Law in Seven States

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A class-action settlement between Facebook and its users should not have been approved by a federal court because it allows Facebook to continue using minors’ images without their parents’ consent, in violation of laws in seven states, Public Citizen said as it filed a notice of appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today.

In early May, Public Citizen urged the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to reject the proposed settlement because it would allow Facebook to continue to use minors’ images in ads such as Facebook’s “sponsored stories” program without parental consent — a practice that is illegal in California, Florida, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. In its appeal of the Aug. 26 approval of the settlement, Public Citizen is representing five parents with children ages 13 to 16, in Virginia, Tennessee, New York and California.

The lawsuit over Facebook’s “sponsored stories” ad program was filed in March 2011, and the parties’ lawyers proposed a settlement earlier this year. Under the ad program, when a Facebook member clicks a button to indicate he or she “likes” a company that advertises on Facebook, Facebook creates an ad that displays the Facebook member’s name and image in a manner that suggests the person endorses the product. Facebook does not seek the consent of members to use their images for advertising and does not seek parental consent when the users are children.

“The settlement has several provisions that purport to protect minors, but those protections all require the minors to take affirmative steps to provide Facebook with information about their parents,” said Scott Michelman, the Public Citizen attorney representing the families. “If the minors don’t do that, Facebook will use the minors’ images based only on a representation of the minor giving his or her parents’ consent — and a minor’s representation of parental consent is no substitute for actual parental consent.”

Facebook’s privacy practices have recently come under scrutiny in other respects, as well. Another Facebook ad program, called “sponsored ads,” made headlines recently when the image of a Canadian teenager appeared in an ad on the social network months after she had committed suicide after a sexual assault and ensuing cyberbullying. Glen Canning, the father of the 17-year-old Rehteaeh Parsons, said he was disgusted to see the photo.

“The point of parental consent laws is to interpose the decision of a responsible adult between the minor and a large corporation like Facebook that might exploit the minors’ images for profit,” said Michelman.

If the objectors prevail in the appeal, it will be sent back to the district court for further proceedings, which could include another attempt at settlement or potentially a trial.

Public Citizen is representing Arlington, Va., resident John Schachter (on behalf of himself and his 13-year-old son); Hermitage, Tenn., resident Kim Parsons (on behalf of herself and her 13-year-old daughter); Brooklyn, N.Y., resident Margaret Becker (on behalf of herself and her 15-year-old daughter); Berkeley, Calif., resident Ann Leonard (on behalf of herself and her 13-year-old daughter), and Annandale, Va., resident Michael Carome (on behalf of his 16-year-old son). (Leonard serves on Public Citizen’s board and Carome is a Public Citizen staff member.)

Get more information about the case and see Public Citizen's objections in the district court.


Copyright © 2016 Public Citizen. Some rights reserved. Non-commercial use of text and images in which Public Citizen holds the copyright is permitted, with attribution, under the terms and conditions of a Creative Commons License. This Web site is shared by Public Citizen Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation. Learn More about the distinction between these two components of Public Citizen.

Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation


Together, two separate corporate entities called Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation, Inc., form Public Citizen. Both entities are part of the same overall organization, and this Web site refers to the two organizations collectively as Public Citizen.

Although the work of the two components overlaps, some activities are done by one component and not the other. The primary distinction is with respect to lobbying activity. Public Citizen, Inc., an IRS § 501(c)(4) entity, lobbies Congress to advance Public Citizen’s mission of protecting public health and safety, advancing government transparency, and urging corporate accountability. Public Citizen Foundation, however, is an IRS § 501(c)(3) organization. Accordingly, its ability to engage in lobbying is limited by federal law, but it may receive donations that are tax-deductible by the contributor. Public Citizen Inc. does most of the lobbying activity discussed on the Public Citizen Web site. Public Citizen Foundation performs most of the litigation and education activities discussed on the Web site.

You may make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., Public Citizen Foundation, or both. Contributions to both organizations are used to support our public interest work. However, each Public Citizen component will use only the funds contributed directly to it to carry out the activities it conducts as part of Public Citizen’s mission. Only gifts to the Foundation are tax-deductible. Individuals who want to join Public Citizen should make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., which will not be tax deductible.


To become a member of Public Citizen, click here.
To become a member and make an additional tax-deductible donation to Public Citizen Foundation, click here.