Facebook hit with lawsuit over “Like” ads – user says he never “Liked” USA Today

A Colorado man who claims Facebook(s fb) falsely told his friends that he “Liked” USA Today(s gci) has filed a lawsuit seeking at least $750 for himself and every other user who appeared in ads for products they never endorsed.

In a class action complaint filed in San Jose, Anthony Ditirro says a friend called his attention to a Facebook ad that shows Ditirro “liking” a USA Today food section:

FB like screenshot

According to Ditirro, he never clicked his “Like” button on USA Today’s Facebook page or even visited the publication’s website in the first place.

“Although PLAINTIFF has nothing negative to say about USA TODAY newspapers, PLAINTIFF is not an avid reader of USA TODAY, nor does PLAINTIFF endorse the newspaper,” says the complaint.

The lawsuit states that the phantom Likes violate a series of state and federal laws related to privacy and publicity rights, and cites a California law that lets people seek the higher of $750 or actual damages if someone uses their image without permission.

Facebook, which was hit with another lawsuit for allegedly reading private messages in order to harvest “Likes,” did not immediately respond to an email request for comment. Update: A Facebook spokesperson stated, “”The complaint is without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”

The newest lawsuit is just the latest in a long-running legal headache for Facebook over the way it leverages users for advertising. Such ads are highly effective — Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg at one point testified that they are three times more valuable than a regular ad — but Facebook has repeatedly botched the legal requirements for obtaining permission. It recently agreed to pay $20 million to settle an earlier class action over so-called “Sponsored Stories” (the settlement is still under appeal).

Reports this week stated that Facebook is ending “Sponsored Stories” but this appears to be largely a marketing technicality. A company blog post states that “Sponsored Stories” are no longer a standalone product but will be included in ads as “social context”:

“social context — stories about social actions your friends have taken, such as liking a page or checking in to a restaurant — is now eligible to appear next to all ads shown to friends on Facebook.”

In other words, Facebook appears to be expanding, not limiting, its use of users in ads.

You can read the new “Like” lawsuit, which was spotted by Law360 (sub req’d), for yourself here:

Facebook False Like Complaint

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This story was corrected 1/11 with the correct spelling of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s name as well as her correct title.