Facebook sued for being a social-network site

I can’t always fit the bottom line of a story in the headline, but this time I could. “Five Facebook users are suing the social network for doing what made it an online superstar – letting members share aspects of their lives on the Web,” Agence France Presse reports. They allege that Facebook violates California’s privacy laws, reports ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid in his CNET blog. It’s an interesting group of plaintiffs: a woman who joined when Facebook was just a college service suing because it became an open network with 250 million+ members; “a photographer and an actress who contend Facebook is wrongly sharing pictures posted on their profile pages”; and two boys under the minimum age state in Facebook’s terms of service. One of the boys, an 11-year-old, “posted that he had swine flu and uploaded pictures or video of ‘partially-clothed’ children swimming,” the AFP cites the lawsuit as saying. Larry adds that “the complaint says that ‘upon learning of the Facebook account and the posting of an uncertain medical condition,’ the child’s parents ‘removed the medical condition postings from Facebook’ and that ‘Xavier O. and his parents have been unable to learn where the minor’s medical information may have been stored, disseminated or sold by Facebook’.” The AFP reports that “Facebook has steadfastly maintained that its members own information they post to profile pages and control who gets to see it” and recently reworded its terms of service to make that clearer, it told users. Meanwhile, the complaints of Xavier’s parents raise a number of questions, e.g., why they didn’t just delete his account – why leave the photos of kids swimming in his profile if they’re mentioned as objectionable? And Larry asks, “Could [the parents] be implying he was posting child pornography images? If so (and I doubt it), this kid could find himself in juvenile court.”

Anyway, lots of kids under 13 lie about their age and set up social network accounts – mostly because they’re at an age when life is getting very social and social networking is now part of kids’ social lives. Responsible social network sites have the age-13 minimum because of COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), which created that somewhat artificial barrier. But – even with the technology that MySpace and Facebook apply to under-age detection – parents are infinitely better at “detecting” their kids’ social-Web activities and deciding what’s appropriate. I can’t imagine a judge who knows anything about social media saying anything different. Looks like Facebook can’t either, because, according to the AFP, the site “has dismissed the lawsuit as being without merit and promised a legal battle.”

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