Two privacy class actions earlier this year have pitted technology giants Facebook Inc. and Apple Inc. against Canadian consumers who allege privacy violations. The two cases resulted in very different outcomes.

First, the Facebook decision: In Douez v. Facebook, Inc., 2014 BCSC 953 (CanLII), the court looked at two basic questions:

  1. Do British Columbian users of social media websites run by a foreign corporation have the protection of BC’s Privacy Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 373?
  2. Do the online terms of use for social media override these protections?

The plaintiff Ms. Douez alleged that Facebook used the names and likenesses of Facebook customers for advertising through so-called “Sponsored Stories”.  The claim alleges that Facebook ran the “Sponsored Stories” program without the permission of customers, contrary to of s. 3(2) of the B.C.  Privacy Act which says:

“It is a tort, actionable without proof of damage, for a person to use the name or portrait of another for the purpose of advertising or promoting the sale of, or other trading in, property or services, unless that other, or a person entitled to consent on his or her behalf, consents to the use for that purpose.”

Interestingly, this Act was first introduced in B.C. in 1968, even before the advent of the primitive internet in 1969 .

Facebook argued that its Terms of Use precluded any claim in a B.C. court, due to the “Forum Selection Clause” which compels action in the State of California. The court accepted that, on its face, the Terms of Service were valid, clear and enforceable. However, the court went on to decide that the B.C. Privacy Act establishes unique claims and specific jurisdiction. The Act mandates that claims under it ”must be heard and determined by the Supreme Court” in British Columbia. This convinced the court that Facebok’s Forum Selection Clause should be set aside in this case, and the claim should proceed in a B.C. court.

The class action was certified. Facebook has appealed.