This past week, an important milestone was reached for online privacy and consumer protection.
Gmail users often ignore the fact that targeted ads appeared, when accessing their Gmail. Google’s contention is that its users opt in because they have read and have agreed to Google’s Privacy Policies. But U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh disagreed. She found that the Google’s Terms of Service and Privacy Polices did not inform users about the Gmail interceptions. She wrote:
The Court finds, however, that those policies did not explicitly notify Plaintiffs that Google would intercept users’ emails for the purposes of creating user profiles or providing targeted advertising …
The Court therefore finds that a reasonable Gmail user who read the Privacy Policies would not have necessarily understood that her emails were being intercepted to create user profiles or to provide targeted advertisements. Accordingly, the Court finds that it cannot conclude at this phase that the new policies demonstrate that Gmail user Plaintiffs consented to the interceptions.
California based Consumer Watchdog Project Director explained the significance of the court’s holding: Internet communications should be subject to the same privacy laws that exist in the rest of society… The court rightly rejected Google’s tortured logic that you have to accept intrusions of privacy if you want to send email.”
Google’s interceptions of emails is not within its ordinary course of business.
Stay tuned to see the result of this case, In re Google Inc. Gmail Litigation, 13-md-02430, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose). This is going to have a huge impact in the world of online privacy.
Brad J. Moore Recently Elected Vice President of Public Justice Foundation-America’s Public Interest Law Firm
Brad J. Moore, partner at our consumer justice/personal injury law firm of Stritmatter Kessler in Seattle, Washington, was recently elected to the office of Vice President of Public Justice Foundation.
Public Justice is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and fights for justice through precedent-setting and socially significant individual and class action litigation. It is the principal project of the Public Justice Foundation, a non-profit membership organization that can call on a nationwide network of 3,500 attorneys. In business for over 25 years, Public Justice is dedicated to upholding its vision of building America’s public interest law firm.
Brad specializes in consumer justice litigation with a focus on catastrophic injury, wrongful death and class action litigation. Some of his work has been featured in the media for his representation of a child killed at a monster truck show as well as his representation of a seriously injured passenger of an international flight from Istanbul, Turkey.
Mr. Moore has been an active member of Public Justice, serving as the Washington State Coordinator. In this role, Brad has demonstrated his commitment to expanding and supporting Public Justice’s impact litigation, communications/outreach, and membership development activities throughout the State and beyond.
He most recently has served as Secretary of Public Justice Foundation. Brad is also member of the Washington State Bar, the Washington State Association for Justice (EAGLE Member), the American Board of Trial Advocates and American Association for Justice.
Over these past few weeks, we have heard a lot about SCOTUS’ decision regarding DOMA and the Voting Rights Act. Little attention has focused on the majority’s decision to prevent small businesses from pursuing claims of abuse of monopoly power under the antitrust laws. At root, the Court said the Federal Arbitration Act virtually overrides any other statute.
Before this decision, SCOTUS said that courts should only enforce arbitration clauses where a party could “effectively vindicate its statutory rights.” However, with American Express v. Italian Colors, a majority (composed of the five conservative justices) held that the arbitration clauses are enforceable even if doing so makes it impossible for a plaintiff to actually vindicate its statutory rights.
The plaintiffs in this case were small merchants (think mom and pop shops) and restaurants. These small businesses claimed that Amex was throwing its weight around as a monopoly by requiring them to accept Amex and by extension requiring them to pay higher rates. The evidence now required of them to prove their case would cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars–all for a best case scenario of recovering a small percentage of those costs.
SKW has taken on wireless industry giants, including AT&T/Cingular on behalf of consumers. We applaud the WA Attorney General (AG), Bob Ferguson for doing so as well. There was a lot of hullabaloo earlier this year, when T-Mobile CEO John Legere, ranted that the “[wireless] industry is broken” and “we’re going to fix it.” Legere was hyping a new “no contract” promo for T-Mobile, which claimed that the consumer would not be bound to any annual contract. The new “no contract” plan didn’t include a phone. So the consumer would need to buy one at a monthly rate over a two-year term or pay the complete cost up front. Those who opt for the monthly payment plan need to keep the wireless service agreement for two years. Hmmm, sounds like a contract, doesn’t it?
This is what WA AG Ferguson thought too, after investigating T-Mobile’s deceptive practices. Consumers who cancel their wireless service face an unanticipated balloon payment for the phone equipment – in some cases higher than termination fees for other wireless carriers depending on how early they cancel. Instead of a “two-year sentence” for wireless service, consumers face a different two-year “sentence” to avoid a lump-sum balloon payment for the phone.
In late April 2013, T-Mobile cooperated with the Attorney General’s Office in signing an Assurance of Discontinuance (AOD) filed in King County Superior Court. Under the AOD, the company agrees not to:
- Misrepresent consumers’ obligations under its contracts, including those contracts that have not restrictions or limitations; and
- Fail to adequately disclose that customers who terminate their T-Mobile wireless service before their device is paid off will have to pay the balance due on the phone at the time of cancellation.
As stated on the WA Attorney General’s website: All consumers who purchased T-Mobile service and equipment between March 26 and April 25, 2013, can obtain a full refund for their telephone equipment and cancel their service plans without being required to pay the remaining balance owed on their devices— as long as the customer cancels his or her service per the terms of the agreement, including returning the equipment to T-Mobile.
The company is required to contact consumers who purchased telephone equipment under the terms of their new business plan to advise them of their right to cancel and obtain a refund. Consumers can call T-Mobile at 1-877-746-0909 for more information or dial 611 from their T-Mobile telephones.