Facebook App: Dispute Resolution Terms Upheld

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174597_184614238226391_7606206_n.jpgIn a Facebook app called “SuperPoke! Pets”, players adopted virtual pets and acquired or purchased virtual currency to buy things for their virtual pets. As one of the first Facebook apps, the game took off in popularity after its launch in 2008. The game was acquired by Google in 2010, but was eventually discontinued at the end of 2011, leaving users without access to their accumulated virtual pets, currency and pet accessories. Users attempted a class-action suit against Google for “elimination of users’ money, goods and property.”

Google defended the class action by citing the dispute resolution clause, which compelled arbitration. In Abreu v. Slide, Inc., 12 0042 WHA (N.D. Cal.; July 12, 2012), the court confirmed that for an arbitration clause to be unenforceable, it must be both “procedurally” and “substantively” unconscionable. Essentially this means that an unenforceable clause would be oppressive due to unequal bargaining power between the parties, or would lead to “overly harsh or one-sided results.” As the court phrased it, the clause must be so one-sided as to “shock the conscience.”

In this case, the clause was upheld, and the dispute was sent to arbitration to be resolved.

Lessons for business?

  • When drafting online terms, ensure you get advice on the dispute resolution options.
  • An app developer or game publisher may be tempted to stack the “Terms of Use” in their favour, but these terms must be balanced. The inclusion of harsh or shocking terms in the fine-print may put the entire agreement at risk of being declared invalid and unenforceable by the courts.

Topics:  Class Action, Facebook, Google, Terms of Use

Published In: Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Updates, General Business Updates, Science, Computers & Technology Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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