An algorithm employed by Google and parent company Alphabet to detect suspicious activity makes it “difficult or even impossible” for consumers to redeem the balance of their Google Play store gift cards, a proposed class action alleges.
The 20-page breach-of-contract lawsuit out of California federal court alleges Google, Google Payment Corp., Google Arizona LLC and Alphabet, Inc. have “erected barriers” that pose a problem for many Play store gift card holders and recipients, who in certain instances are required to fill out a form and provide detailed information about when and where the gift card was bought, and supply receipts documenting the purchase.
The complaint says that although Google touts that Play store gift cards are “easy to redeem,” never expire and can be used to “easily manage” what a person spends on Google Play content, the requirement for gift card holders to complete a form and provide receipts makes gift card redemption impossible, especially when a card is given as a gift, the complaint says.
“In such instances the recipient would have no way of knowing the details of the card’s purchase,” the lawsuit reads. “Moreover, even when gift card holders are able to overcome the obstacles presented by the form and supply all of the requested information, Google sometimes still refuses to redeem or provide refunds for gift cards.”
According to the case, Google’s apparent refusal to honor certain Google Play gift cards stems from an algorithm the tech giant uses to detect suspicious gift card activity and redemptions. As the suit tells it, the algorithm “snares bona fide Google Play gift card purchasers and holders in its wide net,” and effectively invalidates otherwise legitimate gift cards such as the one bought by the plaintiff. From the complaint:
“Plaintiff attempted to redeem lawfully purchased gift cards but instead of immediately being able to use the card’s value, he was instead met with a questionnaire and demands for documentary evidence concerning his purchase. Then, even after complying with Google’s requests, Plaintiff was refused redemption of the gift cards, leaving him with nothing except worthless plastic cards.”
The lawsuit contends that Google’s “arbitrary barriers to redemption” have likely dissuaded many gift card holders from redeeming their cards’ balances, either because they were without the information requested upon redemption or found it too burdensome. Even consumers who have complied with the informational demands for Play store gift card redemption were still unable to make progress, the suit says.
“As a result of its practices, Google was able to pocket the funds spent on Google Play gift cards that should have been redeemable by these card holders,” the plaintiff claims.
The lawsuit alleges Google’s conduct amounts to a violation of California law.
“Under California’s Gift Card Law, a gift card issuer like Google must ensure that its gift cards are ‘redeemable in cash for its value, or subject to replacement with a new gift [card] at no cost to the purchaser or holder,’” according to the case.
Per the lawsuit, California passed its Gift Card Law in 1996 to ensure companies did not profit unfairly from gift cards at consumers’ expense.
The lawsuit looks to represent all bona fide Google Play gift card buyers and holders who were required to submit extraneous data to redeem a Google Play gift card, including users who were denied redemption of the gift cards.
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