Justia Internet Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Liapes filed a class action against Facebook, alleging it does not provide women and older people equal access to insurance ads. The Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibits businesses from discriminating against people with protected characteristics (Civ. Code 51, 51.5, 52(a)). Liapes alleged Facebook requires all advertisers to choose the age and gender of users who will receive ads; companies offering insurance products routinely tell it to not send their ads to women or older people. She further alleged Facebook’s ad-delivery algorithm discriminates against women and older people.The trial court dismissed, finding Facebook’s tools neutral on their face and concluding that Facebook was immune under the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. 230. The court of appeal reversed. Liapes has stated an Unruh Act claim. Facebook, a business establishment, does not dispute women and older people were categorically excluded from receiving various insurance ads. Facebook, not the advertisers, classifies users based on their age and gender via the algorithm. The complaint also stated a claim under an aiding and abetting theory of liability An interactive computer service provider only has immunity if it is not also the content provider. That advertisers are the content providers does not preclude Facebook from also being a content provider by helping develop at least part of the information at issue. View "Liapes v. Facebook, Inc." on Justia Law

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Ung stole cryptocurrencies from multiple victims in 2018, exploiting a common website security feature: A user can prompt a website hosting an account to send a text message to the user’s phone with a security code that temporarily allows access to the account. Ung employed “SIM swapping” in which the thief tricks the victim’s phone carrier into switching the victim’s phone number to a SIM card in the thief’s phone. The thief then prompts the website hosting the victim’s financial account to send a temporary security code to the hijacked phone; the thief accesses the account and transfers the assets.In 2021, Ung pleaded no contest to identity theft, attempted grand theft, and 10 counts of felony grand theft. He admitted a white-collar crime enhancement; he committed three offenses after his bail was revoked. The court imposed a 10-year prison term, entered a general restitution order, and later ordered Ung to make restitution by transferring cryptocurrencies to the victims in the same kinds and amounts he had stolen. Ung argued the order violated his due process rights to notice. He estimates the value of the cryptocurrencies was about $1.56 million when he stole them; the value was about $15.9 million by the time of the restitution hearing.The court of appeal affirmed. Under the statute, the value of stolen property is the replacement cost of like property. By stealing the victims’ cryptocurrency, Ung deprived them of the ability to sell it for a profit after its value increased; whatever profits they lost were a direct consequence of Ung’s conduct. View "People v. Ung" on Justia Law

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Skillz provides a mobile platform that hosts games in which players compete for cash prizes. To participate in paid-entry competitions, a user must save the player account; after entering a date of birth, the user must tap a box with the word “Next.” Below the “Next” box is the advisory statement: “By tapping ‘Next,’ I agree to the Terms of Service and the Privacy Policy.” A hyperlink, if tapped, takes the user to Skillz’s terms of service. Gostev saved a Skillz player account in 2019. The Terms of Service then had 15 pages.Gostev sued Skillz, alleging that its games constituted illegal gambling, predatory and unlawful practices, and violated the Unfair Competition Law and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, Gostev alleged the arbitration agreement was unenforceable. Skillz argued that Gostev’s challenges to the enforceability of the arbitration provision had to be submitted to an arbitrator.The court of appeal affirmed a finding that the arbitration agreement was procedurally and substantively unconscionable. The court noted provisions that a plaintiff’s damages are limited, the arbitration must occur in San Francisco, a plaintiff only has one year to bring his claim, the parties must split the arbitration fees and costs, and the defendant can obtain equitable relief without posting a bond or security. Unconscionability ”permeates the agreement such that severance is unavailable,” View "Gostev v. Skillz Platform, Inc." on Justia Law

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YouTube, a video-sharing website, places “advertising restrictions” on certain videos to prevent the user who posted the video from realizing advertising revenues. Network administrators and individual subscribers can also elect to limit user access to YouTube videos using “Restricted Mode.” YouTube considers whether the content involves drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, tragedies, inappropriate language, and whether the content is "gratuitously incendiary, inflammatory, or demeaning towards an individual or group.” YouTube uses an “automated filtering algorithm.” Users whose videos have been restricted or demonetized may request human review. Prager has posted more than 250 YouTube videos and has been prohibited from monetizing over 50 of its videos. In some cases, other users have posted videos identical to Prager’s restricted videos; the copycat videos have not been restricted. Prager claims the restrictions are based on its political identity or viewpoints.After a district court dismissed its federal lawsuit, Prager sued in state court. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the suit, citing immunity under the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. 230, for interactive computer service providers acting as “publishers or speakers” of content provided by others. The challenged conduct is the exercise of a publisher’s traditional editorial functions, The court rejected arguments that the defendants are themselves information content providers, that their terms of service and public pronouncements subjected them to liability notwithstanding the Act, and that the Act, in immunizing defendants from Prager’s state law claims, is unconstitutional. View "Prager University v. Google LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2016, McLaughlin, the head of a business, was arrested based on an alleged domestic dispute with his former girlfriend, Olivia. In 2018, an Illinois court ordered all records in that case expunged, and the destruction of McLaughlin’s arrest records and photographs. McLaughlin sought an order of protection against Olivia. The terms of the parties’ subsequent settlement were incorporated in a judgment, which was sealed. Doe nonetheless posted multiple Twitter messages about McLaughlin’s arrest with McLaughlin’s mugshot, tagging McLaughlin’s business contacts and clients, and media outlets. Twitter suspended Doe’s accounts. The Illinois court issued a subpoena requiring the production of documents related to Doe’s Twitter accounts and issued “letters rogatory” to the San Francisco County Superior Court. Under the authority of that court, McLaughlin's subpoena was to be served on Twitter in San Francisco, requesting information personally identifying the account holders. In a motion to quash, Doe argued he had a First Amendment right to engage in anonymous speech and a right to privacy under the California Constitution. Doe sought attorney fees, (Code of Civil Procedure1987.2(c))The court of appeal affirmed orders in favor of McLaughlin. No sanctions were awarded. Doe failed to establish he prevailed on his motion to quash or that “the underlying action arises from [his] exercise of free speech rights on the Internet.” Doe presented no legally cognizable argument that McLaughlin failed to make a prima facie showing of breach of the settlement agreement. View "Doe v. McLaughlin" on Justia Law

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Turo, an Internet-based platform, allows vehicle owners to list, and customers to rent, specific passenger vehicles, processes reservations and payments and retains a percentage of the proceeds of each rental transaction. Turo provides a liability insurance policy through a third-party insurer. Turo competes with traditional on-airport and off-airport rental car companies and has used phrases like “rent” and “rental car” in its advertisements.The government sued Turo under the Unfair Competition Law (Bus. & Prof. Code 17200) for operating a rental car business at SFO without the required permit, engaging in prohibited curbside transactions at SFO, and using airport roadways and offering services on airport property without permission. Turo sought a declaratory judgment that it is not a rental car company and alleged that SFO had unlawfully demanded that Turo obtain an off-airport rental car company permit, and pay fees that SFO is authorized to charge only “rental car companies” under Government Code 50474.1(a).The court of appeal held that Turo is not a rental car company. That term is not defined in the Government Code but is defined in nearly identical language in three separate California statutes to mean a person or entity in the business of renting passenger vehicles to the public. A rental car company has control over the vehicles in its fleet in a way Turo does not View "Turo v. Superior Court of the City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. (Blizzard) appealed an order denying its motion to compel arbitration. B.D., a minor, played Blizzard’s online videogame “Overwatch,” and used “real money” to make in-game purchases of “Loot Boxes” - items that offer “randomized chances . . . to obtain desirable or helpful ‘loot’ in the game.” B.D. and his father (together, Plaintiffs) sued Blizzard, alleging the sale of loot boxes with randomized values constituted unlawful gambling, and, thus, violated the California Unfair Competition Law (UCL). Plaintiffs sought only prospective injunctive relief, plus attorney fees and costs. Blizzard moved to compel arbitration based on the dispute resolution policy incorporated into various iterations of the online license agreement that Blizzard presented to users when they signed up for, downloaded, and used Blizzard’s service. The trial court denied the motion, finding a “reasonably prudent user would not have inquiry notice of the agreement” to arbitrate because “there was no conspicuous notice of an arbitration” provision in any of the license agreements. The Court of Appeal disagreed: the operative version of Blizzard’s license agreement was presented to users in an online pop-up window that contained the entire agreement within a scrollable text box. View "B.D. v. Blizzard Entertainment" on Justia Law

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California’s 1986 Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, Health & Saf. Code 25249.5, Proposition 65, provides that no business shall "knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning.” Mercury compounds are listed as Proposition 65 reproductive toxins. Cosmetics containing 0.0001 percent or more of mercury are prohibited under federal law, 21 U.S.C. 331(a)–(c). Lee alleged skin-lightening creams offered for sale on Amazon’s Web site sold by third parties, contain mercury.The trial court concluded that Amazon is immune from liability under the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA), 47 U.S.C. 230, and that Lee failed to establish elements required by Proposition 65. The court of appeal reversed. The stated reasons for concluding that a laboratory test finding a high level of mercury in one unit of a skin-lightening cream is an insufficient basis for inferring other units of the same product contain mercury do not withstand scrutiny. The trial court erred in ruling that Lee was required to prove Amazon had actual knowledge the products contained mercury and in excluding evidence of constructive knowledge. The negligent failure to warn claim did not seek to hold a website owner liable as the “publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider,” so CDA did not bar the claim. View "Lee v. Amazon.com, Inc." on Justia Law

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Yelp filed suit seeking an injunction under the unfair competition law and the false advertising law to prevent Yelp from touting the accuracy and efficacy of its filter. The trial court excluded Multiversal's principal, James Demetriades, from a portion of the trial and denied Multiversal's motion to compel access to Yelp's source code.The Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that the trial court was within its discretion to find that although Yelp's source code might be helpful in analyzing the challenged statements, it was not necessary. In this case, Multiversal offers no explanation as to why this data is relevant or would have been used to establish the falsity of the challenged statements. The court also concluded that Multiversal was represented by counsel and afforded the right to have its expert present during the portion of trial from which Demetriades was excluded, accommodations the Supreme Court has deemed sufficient in civil proceedings. Furthermore, the trial court could reasonably have found that excluding Demetriades from a limited portion of the trial while safeguarding Multiversal's right to have other representatives present, measures similar to the protective order entered during discovery, gave Multiversal notice and opportunity for hearing appropriate to the nature of the case. The court stated that due process required no more, and that Multiversal identifies no prejudice resulting from this exclusion. View "Multiversal Enterprises-Mammoth Properties, LLC v. Yelp, Inc." on Justia Law

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JustAnswer LLC (JustAnswer) appealed an order denying its petition to compel arbitration. Tina Sellers and Erin O’Grady (together, Plaintiffs) used the JustAnswer website to submit a single question to an “expert” for what they believed would be a one-time fee of $5, but JustAnswer automatically enrolled them in a costlier monthly membership. After discovering additional charges to their credit cards, Plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against JustAnswer, alleging it routinely enrolled online consumers like them in automatic renewal membership programs without providing “clear and conspicuous” disclosures and obtaining their “affirmative consent” as mandated by the California Automatic Renewal Law. Seeking to avoid the class action litigation, JustAnswer filed a petition to compel individual arbitration, claiming Plaintiffs agreed to their “Terms of Service,” which included a class action waiver and a binding arbitration clause, when they entered their payment information on the website and clicked a button that read, “Start my trial.” In a case of first impression under California law, the Court of Appeal considered whether, and under what circumstances, a “sign-in wrap” agreement was valid and enforceable. The Court concluded the notices on the “Start my trial” screens of the JustAnswer website were not sufficiently conspicuous to bind Plaintiffs, because they were less conspicuous than the statutory notice requirements, and they were not sufficiently conspicuous under other criteria courts have considered in determining whether a hyperlinked notice to terms of services was sufficient to put a user on inquiry notice of an arbitration agreement. The Court therefore affirmed the trial court’s order denying JustAnswer’s petition to compel arbitration. View "Sellers v. JustAnswer LLC" on Justia Law