Class-action suit pits woman against 'dishonest' ads on Facebook

Dec 09, 2009 By J.M. Brown

A 41-year-old part-time dance instructor and graphic designer from Santa Cruz is the face of a class-action lawsuit designed to force Web sites that offer social gaming to rein in what she calls deceptive ads.

In a filing last month with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Rebecca Swift claims she lost $200 in the course of playing games on Zynga, a site that lets Facebook users play against each other and advance to higher levels using virtual currency or points. Though her lawyers believe thousands of others have been hustled, Facebook says the company is working to combat bad advertisers even though it rejects Swift's suit as baseless.

While playing YoVille, a game that allows users to decorate a virtual residence, Swift said she provided her cell phone number in April to a Zynga advertiser to redeem more virtual cash, but ended up with four $10 charges on her phone bill.

The suit claims Swift lost more money two months later when she signed up for what was supposed to be a free trial of green tea to advance in a game, only to receive $165 in charges for green tea pills and tea bags from China. She was unable to obtain refunds, the suit said.

"Rebecca was appalled when she realized that she had been charged without her consent and after she had cancelled the free trial advertised to her, and that a company would do something so blatantly dishonest," John R. Parker Jr., a Sacramento, Calif., lawyer whose firm filed the case after investigating similar claims, wrote in an .

Swift, an 11-year resident who also provides in-home health care, declined an interview request, but answered questions through her attorney. The married mom of a 17-year-old son who "enjoys the social aspect of playing games with friends from around the world" said she agreed to be identified on the civil suit after responding to a message on the law firm's Web site.

"Rebecca hopes that companies like Zynga will compensate all the users who have been scammed, and will change their practices to stop allowing fraud," the attorney wrote.

Parker said his firm made no attempt to reach a settlement with either company before filing suit, which seeks more than $5 million in compensation for an untold number of potential plaintiffs. A judge will decide later this year if the case will proceed.

A Facebook spokesperson said the case has no merit. Nonetheless, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company has taken steps to address suspicious advertisers, including banning four in the past several months.

"The in question appeared in third-party applications, were not from Facebook and provided no benefit to ," the spokesperson wrote in an e-mail. "However, we are concerned about any potential threat to our users' experience. As a result, we have, and will continue to, take action against both the ad networks and developers who violate our principles or policies. We do not see any merit in this suit, and we will fight it vigorously."

The San Francisco-based Zynga Game Network did not return an e-mail to its press division.

Customers can play Zynga's games for free from Facebook's platform, but Zynga allows players to purchase virtual cash or products that help them move to higher levels more quickly or to buy virtual products not available by merely playing the game. Zynga also links players to advertisers who make what the suit calls "special offers" that trick users into paying for a service to advance, the suit states.

For example, the suit alleges, games will offer an IQ test as a way to gain points. Results of the IQ test are then sent to the user's cell phone via text message, then a charge for the text service is sent to a user's phone accounts, the suit claims.

"Users who manage to discover the obscure charge on their phone bill are then met with hurdles as they attempt to cancel the service and/or obtain a refund," the suit claims.
___

(c) 2009, Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, Calif.)
Visit the Santa Cruz Sentinel online at www.santacruzsentinel.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Explore further: What 6.9 million clicks tell us about how to fix online education (w/ Video)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Social networking aggregator sues Facebook

Jul 10, 2009

(AP) -- In a counter-punch to the world's biggest online hangout, a small Web company called Power.com has sued Facebook, saying it doesn't follow its own policy of giving users control over their content.

Microsoft, Calif. municipalities to settle

May 03, 2006

A tentative $70 million settlement was announced Tuesday to resolve antitrust claims brought on by Californian local government entities against Microsoft.

Social network for gamers helps friends play

Jul 22, 2009

(AP) -- Raptr, a social network targeting gamers, is hoping to make it easier to see what your friends are currently playing on a broad range of platforms such as the Xbox 360 and personal computers.

Electronic Arts acquires Playfish for $275 million

Nov 09, 2009

(AP) -- As its packaged video games business lags, Electronic Arts Inc. has snapped up Playfish Inc., the creator of popular social networking games such as "Who Has the Biggest Brain" and "Pet Society," for $275 million ...

Recommended for you

T-Mobile deal helps Rhapsody hit 2M paying subs

10 hours ago

(AP)—Rhapsody International Inc. said Tuesday its partnership with T-Mobile US Inc. has helped boost its number of paying subscribers to more than 2 million, up from 1.7 million in April.

Airbnb woos business travelers

10 hours ago

Airbnb on Monday set out to woo business travelers to its service that lets people turn unused rooms in homes into de facto hotel space.

Google searches hold key to future market crashes

21 hours ago

A team of researchers from Warwick Business School and Boston University have developed a method to automatically identify topics that people search for on Google before subsequent stock market falls.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

joekid
not rated yet Dec 10, 2009
fantastic its about time someone cares enough to stop these fraudulent advertisers and make them pay. I spend a lot of time searching for honest sites and sites that care enough to screen their advertisers enough to keep the stupid one that think lying is the way to get customers and make a profit. I don't know why so many people fall for the obvious lies they try to inflect on people.