Tel Aviv judge says class-action suit against Facebook can proceed
Social media company’s distinction between paying users and non-paying consumer is not grounds for dismissal, judge rules
Facebook is going to have to defend itself in a class-action lawsuit in Israel after the court rejected the company’s request to reject the motion, claiming the plaintiffs aren’t “consumers” of the social media network.
Advertising on Facebook. Photo: Shutterstock
Facebook, who asked that the lawsuit be dismissed, claimed the plaintiffs were not consumers, since they presented themselves at registration as business users who purchased services from the company. “The plaintiffs are not ordinary non-paying users of the Facebook platform (i.e. consumers), but rather are ‘non-consumers’ (i.e. advertisers),” wrote Cohen in his summary of Facebook’s response. In response, the plaintiffs said that Facebook’s classification of them as business clients was wrong since they were also the owners of user accounts that were also de-activated.
In his decision, the judge noted that alongside the business account the plaintiffs also created personal profiles and that Facebook had shut both down. “Linguistically the plaintiffs are ‘consumers’ of Facebook as they ‘use’ Facebook services,” he said. “Facebook is asking to differentiate between non-paying customers who are ‘consumers,’ and users who paid for Facebook advertising services, who aren’t ‘consumers.’ In my judgment, the issue of payment cannot be the sole criterion for distinguishing between who is and who isn’t a consumer.”
“In the regular world, a consumer pays for the services he or she uses. Therefore the act of payment does not turn the plaintiffs into non-consumers, the claim that only those who don’t pay are ‘consumers’ is not an obvious one. In this case, we are dealing with a mix of personal use of the personal account and business use for marketing courses and the advancement of public issues on the 'pages.' Keeping in mind that the service is ‘mainly personal’ and that Facebook deactivated the personal profile, it appears that the plaintiffs should be viewed as Facebook ‘consumers.’”
Tel Aviv District Court Judge Rachamim Cohen. Photo: Courts administration
Cohen also highlighted the power disparity between the plaintiffs and Facebook: “the plaintiffs are private individuals who occasionally purchased advertising and marketing packages while Facebook is a powerful multinational company who’s products are used by more than two billion people, the inequality between Facebook and the plaintiffs is so significant that the distinctions, if they exist, between users who only have a private profile and users who also have business pages are subject to blurring. Both are in a position of weakness relative to Facebook and both deserve protection under consumer legislation.”
The judge ruled that the plaintiffs are indeed Facebook “consumers,” rejected the motion to dismiss and ordered it to pay legal expenses worth NIS 30,000 (approximately $9,000). The case is now set to advance to the next stage, a hearing related to the content of the class action suit, after which the court will determine whether to approve or dismiss it.
Facebook declined to comment on the report.