AT&T to Pay Refunds to 2.7 Million Mobile Phone Cramming Victims

"Hey, let's all read over our monthly wireless bills instead of face-swapping on Snapchat," said no one, ever.

Satisfied customers

Score yet another victory for consumers, thanks to the tireless work of the Federal Trade Commission.  In a recent statement, the FTC announced that it is providing over $88 million in refunds to more than 2.7 million current and former AT&T customers who had third-party charges added to their mobile bills without their consent.  This tactic, which I’ve discussed here and here, is known as “mobile cramming.”  Many of the charges showed up on phone bills disguised as horoscopes, love tips, or “fun facts.”  Crammers used the same techniques that many charities have now widely adopted to raise quick funds after a natural disaster–having people send a text message to a certain short code that results in a $10 charge on their next phone bill.  T-Mobile was forced to cough up at least $90 million to customers in 2015 after FTC regulators settled with the company.  Like T-Mobile, AT&T collected about 35 percent of every crammed charge that wound up on customers’ bills and was slow to respond to complaints about the unwanted charges.  The refunds to consumers relate to 2014 settlements with AT&T, and the companies behind two of the cramming schemes, Tatto and Acquinity.

Posted in Mobile Devices, Regulation and Rule-making, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Worry: HuffPo Blogger Gets Facebook’s Messenger App Terms of Service ALL WRONG.

Facebook has recently spun off its popular messaging service into a standalone app. That’s probably a good thing because it was exceedingly clumsy to access messages in the most recent versions of the app (at least on Android).  Facebook has been trying to get people to migrate their late-night digital pillow talk to the new app for a while now and things seemed to be going smoothly until recently.  An alarmist blog entry on Huffington Post (naturally) from December 1, 2013 has been circulating recently and stirring up paranoia, claiming the app is merely a tool for snooping on you in your most private moments.  I’ve been writing about the problem of egregious Terms of Service and sneaky adhesion contracts in apps and other services for a while now, but sometimes I feel the need to set the record straight when there’s actually no problem at all.  This post about Facebook Messenger is alarming, sensational and entirely… WRONG! Continue reading

Posted in Contracts and Agreements, Mobile Devices, Privacy, Social Networks | Leave a comment

FTC Suit Against T-Mobile Says ‘Un-Carrier’ Profited From Cell Phone Cramming

Two years ago, I posted a piece written by a former student of mine about a new type of scam called “phone cramming,” something I had never heard of at the time.  Fast forward to now, and I figured all the major cellular carriers had figured out this scheme and put in place safeguards to stop it.  Apparently, T-Mobile didn’t get the memo.  Last week, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against the nation’s fourth largest carrier, accusing it of knowingly profiting from phone cramming schemes for years.

Not so fast, T-Mobile…


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Posted in Legal Developments, Litigation, Mobile Devices | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Defacing Facebook is Now a Crime in Ireland

What do you do when you think your ex-girlfriend is seeing another man?  If you answered: go to her house, steal her phone and post that she’s a whore on her Facebook status, you could be charged with criminal defacement of property, at least in Ireland.  That’s what happened to a man who recently plead guilty to the charge after being acquitted of sexually assaulting the same woman in 2011.  Interestingly, the man was not charged with cybercrime like hacking, but under the country’s criminal damage act, which pertains to crimes like graffiti.  This seems to be a very astute way of addressing the issue because, as the judge in the case acknowledged, there did not appear to be any real harm to the woman other than to her reputation, and this was brief because she was able to delete the post when she logged into her account later.  This is arguably similar to graffiti, although in that case it is easier to quantify the harm because it costs money to remove or repaint over the offending tag, because it is nevertheless causes damage to something of value to the victim.  This is the first that I have heard of a Facebook profile being treated as the property of an individual — rather than the property of Facebook — but that may be an important way to address and put a stop to this sort of behavior.  The court determined that a financial penalty was the most appropriate and imposed a €2,000 fine.  This seems more fitting than trying the person as a hacker under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act here in America, which may be a bit of overkill for such a minor transgression.

Posted in International News, Social Networks | 2 Comments

The Role of Social Media in the Courtroom

There’s not much else to say on this issue that I didn’t say in the interview…

The key is that for now, social media have no place in the courtroom unless they are directly related to the case, like the guy who posted pictures of him wearing the stuff he stole on Facebook. Then it matters. But factoring in public opinion as measured by social media likes or follows is totally inappropriate for any legal determination because its meaning is far too ambiguous.  There’s no context behind a Like, which is the intent.  Facebook wants to keep Likes positive and encouraging, which is one reason why the company has been so adverse averse to including a “dislike” button.  But another reason why they are poor measures of approval is that they are a far cry from a scientific poll.  There’s no randomization.  The sample size is only whoever affirmatively clicks like, which does not count all the people who have chosen not to Like the page.  And the Like doesn’t specify what, specifically, the person is approving of.  The same thing goes with Twitter follows, +1’s, or pageviews.  There’s not enough data to draw a conclusion that would justify a legal finding of fact, which is the primary objective the court is supposed to accomplish.  And who’s to say that the Likes or pageviews cannot be manipulated by a Romanian botnet or Chinese hack attack?  We, in the United States, have designed our legal system to eschew mob justice.  That didn’t work for the French Revolution and it won’t work any better just because we now spend every waking moment on social media.

Posted in Litigation, Rights and Civil Liberties, Social Networks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Facebook Site Governance Vote

There are only a few more hours left to get your vote in for Facebook’s site governance vote on the company’s proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use Policy.  I’ve reviewed the changes and they make a lot of sense.  I voted to approve the changes and I think you should, too.  Let’s be clear, voting no will not magically make Facebook stop sharing your information.  Nothing will.  Sharing is the whole point of Facebook.  You can still limit what gets shared with whom, but you can’t stop it altogether unless you delete your account permanently.  The changes to the site’s governance do very little of substance, but it’s a good time to refresh yourself with them anyway.

I’m rather frustrated that more and more people seem to keep buying into a hoax (or rather a series of related hoaxes) that has continued to circulate around the internet.  If you have been under a rock in an internet dead zone, you may have seen this language posted by someone in your friend list.  You may have even posted it yourself (although I doubt it, since people who make their way here are probably more savvy than that):

 I DO NOT AUTHORIZE the use of my personal data (text, photos, images, comments or any content contained on my page now or in the past), under any pretext, for commercial or non-commercial purposes without my written and signed approval. Also, I REJECT AND DO NOT CONCEDE that Facebook stores messages, comments, images, or any other data I choose or chose to delete. In response to the new Facebook guidelines, I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to my personal details, status, updates, messages, photos, videos and all other personal content that I post or have posted online , on my personal page or anyone else’s page. For commercial use of the above, MY HANDWRITTEN CONSENT IS NEEDED AT ALL TIMES WITH NO EXCEPTION.

Here’s the thing, it’s total garbage.  Even if the language made any sense whatsoever (which it does not) it has no legal effect.  You already signed up for Facebook.  You already agreed to the terms and conditions and continue to agree every time they change it and you keep your account.  Posting this has the same effect as telling a police officer that you don’t accept the speeding ticket he wrote you because you wrote your own constitution and speed limits don’t apply to you.  As anyone who has survived the first week of a contracts class could tell you, you’re trying to change a binding contract without contributing any  additional consideration (in this case money or anything else of real value).  So even if the language wasn’t gibberish, it’s simply an offer to enter into a new contract with Facebook that Facebook has every right to reject.  Good luck with that.

Right now, the internet is swarming with misinformation about privacy rights and these phony agreements.  It’s frustrating because people just copy and paste without even thinking about what they’re doing.  The problem is that the hoax isn’t totally harmless.  It will probably do more harm because some people will probably believe that Mark Zuckerberg himself will come to their door with a clipboard and a stack of documents and ask them personally if they agree to let other people see the picture they took of their friends doing shots in their parents’ basement.  He won’t, but that picture could haunt them for years to come because the internet never forgets.

If you don’t like what Facebook is doing with your information, don’t post anything else and delete your account.  Other than that, read the statement of rights and responsibilities and learn what it means or go ask a lawyer.  Seriously.  Don’t just rely on the internet.  Come to think of it, don’t even trust me.  If you’re really worried about how your information is getting shared, go talk to a real attorney, in person.  They’ll tell you everything I just did, but you’ll at least have the satisfaction of talking to a real human.

Posted in Privacy, Social Networks, Terms of Service Tracker | Leave a comment

Election Day Special: Sharing a Picture of Your Ballot Asking for Trouble

I hope everyone reading this has already voted, but if you’re on your way to the polls later, be sure not to succumb to the temptation to post a picture of your ballot to your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media.  While many people are excited to share their patriotic fervor this election day, there are plenty of ways to do it that won’t possibly result in getting you kicked out of the poll, or worse!

Stay out of trouble, don’t post any images like this to social media.

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Court Decision, Settlement Could Finally Ensure Universal Website Accessibility

Yesterday, Netflix announced that it had reached a settlement with the National Association of the Deaf to caption all of its streaming content by 2014.  This is big news, but went largely unnoticed, just like the court ruling that prompted it.  This summer, the United States District Court in Massachusetts issued a decision in a case that was almost completely ignored in the press.  That was quite surprising considering that the outcome of the case has the potential to completely change how many websites operate.  The decision in National Association of the Deaf v. Netflix, 26 A.D. Cases 1091 (D. Mass., June 19, 2012) is a major step toward ensuring that people with disabilities are able to access the internet and experience a fuller range of the services available to the larger community.  The decision breathes new life into Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which had languished for years under readings of the law that failed to recognize how important the internet was becoming to everyday life. Continue reading

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New Posts Coming This Fall

Hey everyone, hope you’re enjoying the last bits of summer before the leaves start to fall and sweaters emerge from their hiding place under the bed. I’ve been out and about, but I will start posting more regularly as things settle down. Look for posts on the fallout from the Facebook and Google privacy settlements, the failure of the Cybersecurity bill in Congress and other developments in the weeks to come. Until then, I’m going to go back outside… in flip-flops… while I still can.

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NPR Discusses Inheriting Digital Assets

I’ve been talking about the importance of figuring out the heritability of digital assets for some time now.

A recent sign that the issue is starting to hit the mainstream emerged yesterday on All Things Considered as Robert Siegel talked with Jonathan Zittrain, co-director of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, about what happens to your iTunes library when you pass away.  Zittrain’s commentary centers mostly on IP rights and tangentially on the Terms of Service agreements, but it’s a start.  Check it out.


Posted in Contracts and Agreements, Intellectual Property, Virtual Stuff... | Leave a comment