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Sponsored Stories ruck: Zuck chucks 15 bucks at ad photo suck schmucks

But kids' rights fighters wanted ban on advertisers using children's pics

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Facebook will dish out $15 to lucky users in a court-approved $20m settlement over "sponsored stories" - the little ads that surprised netizens by using their names and photos.

US District Judge Richard Seeborg gave the final green light to the offer to end a lawsuit against the online flyers, which automatically hoovered up pictures of people who had "Liked" stuff by advertisers and placed them on friends' pages to tout products.

Facebook, which bagged $234m from sponsored stories between January 2011 and August 2012, has promised to give punters more control over their privacy. Children's rights groups had argued that no youngsters should ever have any of their images, status updates and other guff shared with advertisers on Mark Zuckerberg's social network .

Judge Seeborg ruled that the offer of cash and an account settings tweak was likely to be the best result the class-action lawsuit could achieve, even if it went to trial.

"The injunctive relief, while not incorporating all features that some of the objectors might prefer, has significant value and provides benefits that likely could not be obtained outside the context of a negotiated settlement, even if plaintiffs were to prevail on the merits," he said in his ruling.

The lawsuit was filed against Facebook in 2011, alleging that the social network's "sponsored stories" shared users' likes of companies with friends without paying them or allowing them to opt out. Under the settlement, the website has agreed to hand over $20m in compensation and improve its privacy settings for accounts.

"Facebook has agreed both to provide greater disclosure and transparency as to when and how member’s names and profile pictures are re-published, and to give them additional control over those events," the judge said.

He added that the compensation package is likely to divvy up to about $15 each to hundreds of thousands of people who successfully joined the sueball, lodged in the Northern District of California. The three named plaintiffs who brought the case were looking for $12,500 each for the efforts and risks of pursuing the litigation. However, the judge, sitting in San Francisco, branded the amount "excessive" and only awarded them $1,500 each.

The social network said in a statement it was "pleased" with the ruling. Campaign group Public Citizen, which represented six parents in the case, told IDG News Service the decision "gave short shrift to kids' online privacy rights". ®

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