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Facebook settles class action with 'no-admission' deal

|Written By Michael McKiernan

Regina-based Merchant Law Group LLP has settled a class action with Facebook over changes to the social media giant’s privacy settings, but any users hoping for a windfall will be sorely disappointed.

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As part of the no-admission deal, Merchant Law Group gets $75,000 to cover its legal fees, while representative plaintiff Patrice St. Arnaud gets $1,000 “for his time and effort in his capacity,” according to the settlement agreement. Facebook has also agreed to keep its updated privacy policy in place for three years.

The suit, launched in July 2010, alleged Facebook left user’s information exposed to third parties such as advertisers after changing its default settings. Users were asked to review their privacy settings at the time of the changes, which happened between November 2009 and January 2010, but the new defaults made information such as friend lists and profile pictures public unless altered by members.

At the time of the launch, Merchant Law Group’s Tony Merchant told Sun Media Facebook’s move was a “bait and switch.”

“The bait is that they wanted to be able to do demographic sales targeting, and the switch is that to do that, they needed to get into people’s personal information,” said Merchant.

The action sought unspecified damages because it was unknown how much Facebook had profited from the changes. But in April this year, it suffered a setback when a Quebec judge refused certification for the class action and dismissed the case.

Merchant’s firm will be back in Quebec Superior Court on Feb. 9, 2012 to ask another judge to approve the settlement. A 45-day opt-out period for class members, which the firm has estimated includes half of all Canadians, began ticking when the settlement was published on Dec. 5.

Anyone who wishes to oppose the settlement needs to get written notice to Merchant Law Group by Jan. 10, 2012 outlining their reasons for opposition, and if more than 20,000 people decide to opt out, then the settlement agreement will be rendered null and void.


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