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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Google Tags Users Failed to Make a Case Over Fees

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) - A federal judge dismissed allegations that Google offered a free trial for its now-defunct Tags service and then slapped users with $25 fees.

Google launched 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.

Later, 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 said 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, and Rodriguez promoted his employer's auto dealership.

When they contacted Google's customer service, the plaintiffs were allegedly told that the free trial offer consisted of a one-time, $25 discount - but were not free. The class claimed Google never disclosed this in the terms of its promotional offer.

Google killed the service in April 2011, but the class said Google kept users' credit card information.

If a user wanted to delete his sensitive information from Google's billing records, his only recourse was to cancel the credit card, according to the complaint.

Since Google required customers to enter credit card information before accepting the trial offer, the class claimed created, and later broke, a contract.

But U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte disagreed, pointing to four versions of the trial's terms and conditions, as provided by Google in its opposition briefs.

"The complaint merely alleges that plaintiffs subjectively believed that use of any Google Tags for which they signed up during the promotional period were free for the first thirty days no matter the number of Tags for which they signed up," Whyte wrote. "To successfully assert a breach of contract claim, plaintiffs must quote the operative language of the purported contract or at least the substance of what they were told that was reasonably susceptible to the interpretation they assert. Contracts must be objectively construed and are not to be interpreted based upon the subjective belief or understanding of a party."

Whyte continued: "Google argues that the court can consider the 'Terms and Conditions' submitted with its motion and find that Google made clear that the offer from Google was only for a $25.00 credit, covering thirty days free for one Tag. However, the submitted 'Terms and Conditions' are supported only by the testimony of Google's counsel, but his declaration does not show facts supporting personal knowledge that the 'Terms and Conditions' were actually those utilized by Google or presented to plaintiffs."

The class has 30 days to amend the claim for breach of contract, but the allegationsz under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act cannot proceed.

"A violation of the CLRA may only be alleged by a consumer," Whyte wrote. "Both Mr. Rodriguez and Ms. Frezza acknowledged that they signed up for Google Tags accounts for business purposes. Mr. Rodriguez signed up for Google Tags 'in order to promote the services of his employer, an auto dealership.' Likewise, Ms. Frezza 'hoped to use the Google Tags service to better advertise her small holistic healing business.' Additionally, the complaint is replete with references to how Tags was a service designed for businesses and merchants. Because the complaint makes clear that plaintiffs signed up for Tags for business purposes and not personal, family, or household purposes, they do not qualify as 'consumers' protected under the CLRA."

The plaintiffs failed to show they had an implied contract with Google, as required to sufficiently plead recklessness with credit card information, Whyte found.

"If, as plaintiffs argue in their opposition, Google simply agreed to 'handle its customers' credit card information responsibly,' the claim still fails," the ruling states. "Plaintiffs contend that Google breached the implied contract because it has retained the credit card information of plaintiffs after they have cancelled their subscription to Google Tags. However, retaining information does not amount to handling it irresponsibly. Without more, plaintiffs have not sufficiently alleged that Google breached a general obligation to reasonably safeguard customer information."

Similarly, the plaintiffs misread Google's obligation toward their credit card information under the California Customer Records Act, according to the ruling.

"Plaintiffs allege that Google violates this provision by retaining their credit card information," Whyte wrote. "The cited section of the CCRA, however, applies only to situations where a business intends to discard records containing personal information. ... Here, plaintiffs have not alleged that Google intends to discard plaintiffs' credit card information. In fact, plaintiffs state 'Google has not taken a single step toward shredding, erasing, encrypting, or otherwise modifying the Plaintiffs' personal information.' Therefore, the statute has not been triggered and plaintiffs' claim must fail."

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