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Class Claims|Google Was Evil

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Google duped businesses and consumers by offering free trials of the now-defunct "Google Tags" ad service, then charging for it, according to a federal class action.

Even worse, the plaintiffs say, Google refused to delete their credit card information from its billing system, violating California law and putting them at risk of identity theft and fraud.

Google's company slogan is "Don't Be Evil."

It launched Google Tags in February 2010 as a way for businesses to set themselves apart visually in a Google search or on Google Maps. Google charged a $25 flat monthly fee per listing.

In July 2010, Google offered a "free 30-day trial" of Google Tags. Consumers could append a Google Tag to one or more of their listings, for free. To activate the service, however, consumers had to supply their credit card information.

Lead plaintiffs Rachel Frezza and Mauro Rodriguez say Google charged them for their use of multiple tags during the free trial period.

Frezza used the service to advertise her small holistic healing business, Rodriguez to promote his employer's auto dealership.

When they contact Google's customer service, they say they were told that the free trial offer "consisted merely of a one-time, $25 discount - as opposed to the genuinely 'free' use of the tags during the 30-day period. This was not disclosed in the terms of Google's promotional offer," according to the complaint.

Google killed the service in April 2011. But the class claims Google kept the credit card information of those who signed up for the trial offer, and refused to provide them a way to delete the sensitive information from its billing records, other than to advise them to cancel the credit card.

Since Google required customers to enter credit card information before accepting the not-so-free trial offer, the class claims a contract was created - and that Google breached it by charging them.

The class claims Google also violated California's Customer Records Act: "The members of the Credit Card Class canceled their 'free' trial of Google Tags prior to, or upon, the expiration of the 30-day promotional period, and Google subsequently retired its Google Tags feature altogether. Thus, Google no longer needs to retain the credit card number of the class members. "Nonetheless, Google has continued to retain this personal information in its electronic billing records.

"Worse yet, Google has stated to plaintiffs and the Credit Card Class that Google will not delete their credit card information without first requiring that the members either cancel their credit card altogether or replace the existing credit-card number with the number of a new credit card."

Google took in more than $28 billion from its advertising programs and products in 2010, accounting for 99 percent of the company's revenue, according to industry estimates.

The class seeks compensatory, statutory and punitive damages for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and consumer law violations.

Its lead counsel is Todd Atkins with Atkins and Davidson of San Diego.

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