Were the privacy rights of Canadians in four provinces violated when Facebook allegedly used users' profiles in sponsored stories advertising?
That's what a B.C. Supreme Court judge will have to decide.
Justice Nitya Iyer ruled on June 2 that B.C. Supreme Court has jurisdiction to hear a class-action suit against Facebook alleging the social media giant inappropriately used users' profiles to sponsor advertising.
"Members of the class did not expressly or impliedly consent to Facebook's use of their likenesses in sponsored stories," Iyer said. "Facebook's use of class members' likenesses was for a purpose prohibited by the four privacy statutes.
The claim alleges that Facebook, Inc. used class members' names and images in its advertising program, Sponsored Stories, without their consent, contrary to the privacy laws of B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Facebook argued that California is the correct legal jurisdiction to hear the case.
Deborah Louise Douez is the representative claimant in the case, meaning the case falls under her name as a proxy for all those potentially affected by the litigation.
The case started in 2012, and Douez managed to get it certified in B.C. Supreme Court. Facebook appealed and lost, then appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, where the company challenged the B.C. Supreme Court's jurisdiction to determine the privacy claims under Manitoba's and Newfoundland and Labrador's privacy statutes.
The upshot was the return of the case to the B.C. Supreme Court.
Douez seeks various damages between $830 million and $2.1 billion. Any reward would be split among class members after lawyers have taken their cut.
Iyer said in the jurisdiction decision that Facebook offered sponsored stories to advertisers. Advertisers registered with Facebook could pay the social media company to associate the advertiser's name or identifiable mark with a user who performed certain actions in connection with the advertiser.
Such actions included liking an advertiser's Facebook page or other content, checking in at an advertiser's site or performing an app share to signify the person was using or had used the advertiser's application, Iyer said.
Facebook's software would attach a banner such as "Sponsored" to that social action and the advertiser's thumbnail icon.
The result was that the software would increase the likelihood that the user's Facebook friends would see the sponsored story on their home pages.
However, the ruling said that Facebook did not display the sponsored story on users' home pages and did not inform users when their names and images were used to create a sponsored story.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.