A multimillion-dollar settlement proposed by Meta sends a message to other companies about the importance of paying attention to the country’s privacy laws, says a lawyer representing Canadians in the class-action lawsuit against the social media giant.
Meta is offering $51 million to settle the lawsuit in four provinces over Facebook’s “Sponsored Stories” advertising program, which ran from 2011 to 2014, using people’s names and photos without their knowledge.
Christopher Rhone, a partner at the Vancouver law firm Branch MacMaster who represented the plaintiffs, said large social media companies are usually not based in Canada but still expect to do business here.
“It’s important for them to review and consider the privacy rights that the individuals, the residents of these provinces, have in Canada, before they start engaging in their work here,” he said.
Rhone said the companies need to take a closer look at the Canadian legal landscape, “in order that residents of these provinces can be protected in the ways that our legislatures and courts want them to be protected.”
The legal action filed by a B.C. woman was expanded outside of the province in 2019 to include residents of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador.
As part of the sponsored story program, if someone “liked” a product, Facebook generated a news feed endorsement using their name and profile photo, but didn’t tell them their information was being used.
MNP Ltd., the court-appointed administrator handling the proposed settlement, said in a statement the agreement needs to be approved by a B.C. Supreme Court judge in March, along with a process to determine class members’ share of the money.
“The proposed settlement provides that Facebook will pay the all-inclusive sum of $51 million in exchange for a full and final release by the class of all claims in issue in the class-action against Facebook,” said the statement issued Thursday by MNP.
Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the settlement.
The case has stretched on for years, including to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in 2017 that Facebook could be sued in B.C. courts.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge found in 2022 that “members of the class did not expressly or impliedly consent to Facebook’s use of their likenesses in Sponsored Stories.”
Rhone said Meta appealed the decision regarding liability, but a ruling was not released before the settlement was agreed to.
He said despite the fact that Facebook is not admitting liability in the settlement, the money still sends a strong message about protecting Canadian’s rights.
Meta wrapped up a $725-million legal settlement last year with American Facebook users over privacy after revelations that the platform allowed personal information from its users to be fed to Cambridge Analytica, a firm that helped Donald Trump’s 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
Lawyers estimate 4.3 million people could qualify for part of the Canadian settlement.
The MNP statement said class members don’t need to do anything yet to get compensation.
“After settlement is approved, a process will be announced setting out the procedure and manner for class members to submit their claims for a share of the settlement funds.”
Rhone said he will be proposing that an online form be set up for people to show that they lived in one of the four provinces and were members of Facebook during the period when Sponsored Stories were running.
He said no database exists laying out who was used in the ads.
“I think almost anybody that was at least somewhat active on Facebook would have been in a sponsored story. That’s the assumption we’re working with,” he said.
Anyone who wants to object to the proposed settlement has until March 11.