It’s not just those directly involved that benefit from class action lawsuits. While certain cases might seem to have a very limited impact (if you don’t use, for example, Suave Keratin Hair Smoothing Kits, then it’s unlikely your life will be changed much by a lawsuit about them), other cases end up changing the way entire industries operate. In the digital age, with the Internet still operating in a bit of a no man's land between government regulation and untempered freedom, lawsuits are shaping the way we all interact – and they’re often doing so in ways that benefit millions of users at once.
Even online, the law is important, and changes to the Internet brought about by lawsuits have helped make it a safer – and ultimately better – place to be.
You may not know about them – you might not have even heard of them – but certain class action lawsuits are changing the way you use the Internet, and they’re doing it for the better.
ClassAction.org takes a look at some of the groundbreaking lawsuits that helped protect and define the Internet.
Google and Your Privacy
Your privacy is important, and knowing that the e-mails you send and receive are being delivered without being intercepted is paramount. In an age when the true extent of the NSA’s capabilities is coming to light, lawsuits have been an effective way of ensuring that Internet companies obey the law and protect users’ privacy. After all, reading someone else’s mail carries heavy fines, so why shouldn’t such strict regulations apply to e-mail, too? Google, Inc. has faced several class action lawsuits challenging the company’s practice of scanning e-mails to direct advertising materials. In October, a lawsuit was brought under the Federal Wiretapping Act and accused the company of illegally reading e-mails sent to and from its Gmail platform. The suit would have covered hundreds of millions of Americans (a key reason it looks like it won’t be moving forward), and served as a vocal warning to Google that it cannot act without impunity. Privacy’s becoming a tricky thing to define and protect, but class action lawsuits remain a good defense against intrusion.
Digital Content – Yours for the Right Price?
The rise of digital content – e-books, MP3 downloads, and all other content available online – has opened up an entirely new industry, while causing several problems for established content providers. Publishers have found themselves facing problems as they try to provide downloadable books while ensuring piracy and peer-to-peer sharing don’t destroy profit margins. One answer? Form partnerships with other companies and maintain inflated prices. The problem? It’s illegal and the costs were being borne by consumers – until a lawsuit brought by attorneys general across the United States saw publisher after publisher agree to settle and change their policies. The suit alleged that major publishers had agreed to fix prices for e-books delivered through Apple’s online stores, effectively taking part in an illegal conspiracy. Lawyers stepped in, and just two weeks ago, consumers began receiving reimbursement for e-books they purchased at an artificially inflated price.
Spam Emails Take a Hit
Spam. No one likes it, do they? There are laws against what companies can send you through the mail, the circumstances under which they can phone you, and now – thanks to a new-and-improved Telephone Communications Protection Act (TCPA) – how they can text and e-mail you. The updated TCPA rules provide clear guidelines for what is and what isn’t permitted, and because violations are often easy to prove (the presence of unwanted messages sent without permission more than fulfills the burden of proof), the threat of legal action has been incredibly effective in stopping spammers. An Internet without lawsuits to reign in companies that want to bombard you with advertisements? No, thank you.
Paying the Price for Apps
The growth of the app industry has changed the way many people work and play, and it’s a fantastic, creative area of business growth. Does that mean app makers and providers can get away with ripping off consumers? Absolutely not. Both Google, Inc.’s Play Store and Apple, Inc.’s Apple Store have been the center of lawsuits and investigations in the United States and the European Union over the ease with which users’ children can make purchases while using apps. In some cases, children have spent hundreds of dollars without needing any permission or approval from their parents. In March, Apple began offering refunds for purchases made after the Federal Trade Commission threatened legal action. Google continues to face claims that apps are too easily abused, and if Apple’s $32.5 million settlement agreement is anything to go by, the company’s unlikely to come out on top in the face of such widespread consumer criticism.
Facebook Can’t Just Change the Rules – Social Media Not Above Regulation
If there’s one company that exemplifies the boom of the Internet age, it has to be Facebook. With billions of users around the globe and a growing business empire, the company helped redefine what social media means. It hasn’t been without its ups and downs, though, and the issue of privacy, and especially how companies can change their terms and conditions for existing users, has landed Facebook in hot water on more than one occasion. We blogged in 2012 about several lawsuits Facebook faced, including allegations that it tracked users’ internet activity in violation of privacy laws. Late last year, Facebook faced a new lawsuit after parents complained that minors were using credit cards to make purchases, and that Facebook failed to require verification for these purchases. The case is a good example of the way lawsuits can help shape the future of the Internet. Problems that could never have been foreseen are becoming commonplace, and lawsuits – including class action lawsuits – help to assert and protect consumers’ rights and individual freedoms.
Because the Internet seems to be changing at such a rapid pace, it’s often hard to remember how far we’ve already come. Still, even online, the law is important, and changes to the Internet brought about by lawsuits have helped make it a safer – and ultimately better – place to be.