BUSINESS

Facebook class-action lawsuit over privacy concerns is unfriended by B.C. court

06/19/2015 06:30 EDT | Updated 06/19/2016 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - British Columbia's top court has stayed a class-action lawsuit filed by a Vancouver woman against Facebook Inc. over a now-defunct advertising product.

Deborah Douez alleged the product known as Sponsored Stories used the names and images of Facebook members without their consent, breaching Section 4 of B.C.'s Privacy Act.

But her case pitted the law, requiring lawsuits filed under the Privacy Act to be heard in B.C. Supreme Court, against a clause in Facebook's Terms of Use, requiring legal complaints against the company to be filed in Santa Clara County, Calif.

A lower court judge sided with Douez in May 2014, ruling the Privacy Act overrode Facebook's Terms of Use and certified the class-action lawsuit.

However in a unanimous decision posted online Friday, the B.C. Court of Appeal agreed with Facebook, ruling the judge made a mistake in interpreting the law and staying the class-action proceedings.

"Section 4 is a rule of subject matter competence that, like all B.C. law, applies only in B.C.," wrote Chief Justice Robert James Bauman for the three-member panel.

"California courts determine for themselves, using California law, whether they have territorial competence over any given proceedings."

Bauman said Douez also failed to provide the court with any reason why a California court could not hear the case and ruled Facebook's Terms of Use clause should be enforced. In order to sign up for Facebook, users need to agree to its terms of use.

Bauman said Douez "is at liberty to bring her action in California."

Christopher Rhone, counsel for Douez, said he hasn't yet spoken to his client but will seek instruction to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

"It's important for British Columbians to have their privacy rights protected by the courts of this province," he said.

A Facebook spokesperson was unavailable for comment, but the company responded in an email.

"We are pleased with the court's ruling that our terms are fair and apply to all users," the statement read.

Sponsored Stories included the names and images of members, as well as an advertising logo and product information, and it was sent to other Facebook members.

Facebook has said previously the product is no longer available.

The class action covered B.C. residents who were Facebook members between Jan. 1, 2011 and May 30, 2014, who used their real name or portraits on the website and who were included in the Sponsored Stories.

Facebook is based out of Delaware but its head office operates in California.