Sunday, January 27, 2013

Strange-looking emails about Facebook possibly owing users $10 turn out to be legitimate

Did you -- as we did -- receive an email written in legalese that said that Facebook might owe you some money? If you did, and $10 is worth a few minutes of your time, don't send it to the trash heap, just yet.

The emails began arriving in the inboxes of Facebook users on Friday. They stem from a class action lawsuit, and Facebook's settlement offer. The court granted preliminary approval for the settlement, and the ball has begun rolling, with emails such as shown above.

Affected users are people who "may have been featured in a Sponsored Story on Facebook prior to December 3, 2012."

A "Sponsored Story," FYI, is described as follows (from the email):
Sponsored Stories are a form of advertising that typically contains posts which appeared on about or from a Facebook user or entity that a business, organization, or individual has paid to promote so there is a better chance that the posts will be seen by the user or entity's chosen audience. Sponsored Stories may be displayed, for example, when a Facebook user interacts with the Facebook service (including sub-domains, international versions, widgets, plug-ins, platform applications or games, and mobile applications) in certain ways, such as by clicking on the Facebook "Like" button on a business's, organization's, or individual's Facebook page.

Sponsored Stories typically include a display of a Facebook user's Facebook name (i.e., the name the user has associated with his or her Facebook account) and/or profile picture (if the user has uploaded one) with a statement describing the user's interaction with the Facebook service, such as "John Smith likes UNICEF," "John Smith played Farmville," or "John Smith shared a link."
To be clear, Sponsored Stories is a Facebook advertising feature that was introduced in early 2011. Since users cannot opt-out of the feature, some users and watchdog groups considered it to be a privacy violation.

The email has the look, to be honest, of a scam, particularly if -- as with us -- you don't know that you were ever part of a Sponsored Story.

However, the settlement offer -- for a total of $20 million -- is in fact real. Filling out the claim for takes ten minutes or less, but does include the somewhat unnerving (if you are not sure this is legit, which it is) step of entering your bank routing number and account number if you want to be paid by bank transfer, rather than a check.

Still, the settlement is real, and some Facebook users may get paid. There is a key word in that statement: "may." The problem is that "If the number of claims made renders it economically infeasible to pay money to persons who make a timely and valid claim, payment will be made to the not-for-profit organizations identified on the Settlement website at"

In other words, since the pot is only $20 million, and since there are over 150 million Facebook users in the U.S. alone, the odds of this ending up as a windfall to non-profit organizations is rather high.

If individual payments do go out, it will be after June.

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