Friday, December 29, 2006

Google maintains 7/8ths world domination

Bradley v. Google, Inc., 2006 WL 3798134 (N.D. Cal.)

“This is a lawsuit over five dollars.” So begins the court’s analysis of pro se plaintiff Theresa Bradley’s claims against Google. Bradley actually did better than many Google opponents – one of her eight claims survived a motion to dismiss, the one for intentional destruction of property (emails in her Gmail account).

Bradley owned a small consulting business and ran a website for that business. She signed up for Google AdSense on August 10, 2006. Because Google didn’t provide her with any way to see which ads would be put on her site before they appeared there, she clicked on them in order to learn more, in violation of her contract with Google. She also asked Google to remove some of the ads, which Google did not do. On August 19, 2006, Google terminated her account, removed its ads, and failed to pay Bradley the approximately five dollars that ads on her site had generated. Bradley also had a Gmail account, through which she conducted her transactions with Google. On August 24, she discovered that all her communications with Google AdSense had been removed or deleted from her account; she further claimed that other emails had been deleted, and that emails with third parties had been “mixed up” with her emails.

Bradley sued (for at least the 35th time; she is “no stranger” to the court system). Her claims: false advertising under the Lanham Act, fraud, interference with prospective business advantage, violations of California Commercial Code § 2207 relating to alteration of contract terms, breach of contract, unlawful interception of electronic communications under 18 U.S.C. § 2520, invasion of privacy under California law, and intentional destruction of evidence, professional property, and personal property.

The false advertising claims hinged on Bradley’s allegation that Google falsely advertised that she’d be able to preview AdSense ads. As a result, she signed up with Google, and her “goodwill and relationships with her customers were damaged” because of the ads that Google placed on her site. The court, citing no law, found that this theory of damages was simply too attenuated. I am dubious, since the whole point of being able to approve or disapprove of AdSense ads is to be able to control their appropriateness to the website, which can only be of importance because of website visitors’ reactions. That is, the alleged harm is exactly the kind of harm you’d expect from uncontrolled ad placement. It’s the reason that the ability to preview AdSense ads is material to consumers. The better argument is that Bradley, who isn’t a competitor but a customer, lacks Lanham Act standing.

Bradley’s related fraud claims were dismissed for failure to plead with particularity.

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