This could be a very bad year for Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, his multi-billion-dollar money pot and pet intelligence-gathering project. The corporate social media dominator and setter of hypocritical “Community Standards” is facing its own community-driven justice, one class action lawsuit at a time.
After years of fending off parents upset by unauthorized credit card charges racked up by their child’s online gaming activities, Facebook is now be held accountable in multiple class-action lawsuits for its alleged crimes related to deceptive business practices.
Facebook Customer Service has consistently denied legal and financial satisfaction in the form of refunds to large groups of defrauded parents who have banded together to get their hard-earned money back through the U.S. legal system.
One case of particular interest that has blazoned national headlines from the beginning of 2019 is a plot reported over many years by angry parents who got credit bills for online gaming services they and their children had unknowingly ordered.
On Jan. 14, 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Beth Freeman ordered Facebook to unseal more than 135 pages of documents in a class-action lawsuit, brought by a group of defrauded parents which is “focused on how Facebook targeted children in an effort to expand revenue for online games, such as Angry Birds, PetVille and Ninja Saga.”
Judge Freeman allowed Facebook until Jan. 24 to unseal the documents and also decided that the social media giant could keep sealed some of the records or release them with partial redactions (whiting- or blacking-out incriminating names and places). The documents are dated from 2010 to 2014.
Here’s the story:
Parents who contacted Facebook to negotiate refunds were denied. Now outraged by this poor customer service, they filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) whose rating is important to the reputation, based on reported conduct, of business organizations.
Defrauded parents also contacted their credit card companies and the court system to get their money back. The amount of credit card revenue was charged back to the criminal third-party game vendors was more than enough to trigger a red flag by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive business practices.
We’re not talking about chump change here: in two weeks, one 15-year-old was charged $6,500 playing games on Facebook – and denied requests for refunds.
The pattern is clear: over the years, parents have reported unethical and illegal financial policies and practices to Facebook, only to be met with complete uncooperation as the corporate stakeholders got fatter and fatter. Clearly – and despite its “Community Standards” – Facebook went after money from the pockets of babes’ parents with no moral compass of their own.
The unsealed documents prove that Facebook defrauded the parents of underage users who played third-party games and often didn’t know of any charge for the promoted service.
This is the part where the story gets really interesting. The unsealed court documents are nothing short of astonishingly disgusting. They paint a dark picture of a low-down, money-grubbing corporate leadership that is willing to sell their unwitting users down the Money River at the drop of a gaming app.
Internal documents unsealed by judicial order revealed that Facebook employees called spendy children “whales” – a casino industry term which describes big spenders. “A child could spend hundreds of dollars a day on in-game features such as arming their character with a flaming sword or a new magic spell to defeat an enemy – even if they didn’t realize it until the credit card bill arrived,” reported Reveal News.
Judge Freeman argued that the public has a right to know how Facebook targeted children.
What we’re finding out about Facebook is not nice at all:
On July 8, 2011, Facebook employee Tara Stewart emailed her coworkers, “If the dev[elopers] are really concerned about the cbs [chargebacks] and not refunds it could make sense to start refunding for blatant FF-minor [friendly fraud involving a minor].” Stewart had initiated a project a couple of months previously to help her employer reduce credit card company chargebacks to outraged parents who claimed they had been duped.
As far back as 2011, Stewart had identified these troublesome games: PetVille, Happy Aquarium, Wild Ones, Barn Buddy, and any Ninja game. She and her team set to devising a solution that would keep kids from charging up their parents’ credit cards.
Facebook conducted an internal survey which showed that many parents were unaware that the social media and gaming platform had stored their credit card information. Parents also didn’t know their kids could access parental credit cards with no password or other user authorization challenge.
Sometimes, the underage gamers didn’t realize that the “play money” they were losing translated into real cash losses for their parents.
Stewart’s team altered the gaming software so that children had to re-enter the first six digits of the credit card number on certain games before they could spend money. This “good first step,” as Stewart called it, worked great and lowered the number of chargebacks.
After all this hard work and good results, did Facebook follow Apple’s example and introduce new layers of online financial security? No, they did not.
Instead, Facebook chose to seek Big Profits and abandon all good business practices, morals, and ethics. The game pusher would make no effort or attempt to prevent children from unknowingly spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars playing games.
Now, American Justice will decide if Facebook done those parents wrong and, if so, what’s to be done about it.