In law, a class action or a representative action is a form of lawsuit in which a large group of people collectively brings a claim to court and/or in which a class of defendants is being sued.
This form of collective lawsuit originated in the United States and is largely heard of there. However, in several European countries with civil law (different from the English common law principle which is used by U.S. courts by the way), changes have been made in recent years that allow citizen (or consumer) organisations to bring claims on behalf of large groups of citizens (or consumers).
In recent times, class action lawyers have been quite busy with a new set of targets: social networking platforms. Linkedin (see top image), Facebook and Twitter are two that have recent filings against them.
In the lawsuit against Facebook, the lawyers are claiming, on behalf of numerous users under the age of 18 in New York, that Facebook does not receive parents’ “permission before displaying that minors ‘like’ the products of its advertisers.”
In the lawsuit against Twitter, the plaintiffs claimed that Twitter sent them an “unsolicited, confirmatory text message to their cellular telephone after they had indicated to Twitter that they no longer wanted to receive text message notifications.” According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that this act was in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Spam, basically.
To a cynic, these actions may look like litigation-junkie opportunism. To others, like me, these actions (whilst potentially opportunistic) are just the tip of an iceberg that I predict will be increasingly revealed as we move forward – and I believe that the scale of class actions will rise, whilst the subject matter will continue to centre on data, identity and privacy.
I’ve publicly outlined the challenges that commerce has in terms of data, identity and privacy. In the previous chapter I asked a fundamental question:
What if the most private information is the most valuable?
A: Find even more subtle ways of getting it whilst keeping an increasingly suspicious public at bay?
B: Put citizens’ privacy under their own control in an honest and decent way?
I’ve also stated that whilst I’m not pushing for the closure of Facebook, I believe citizens should be in control of their own private information. I believe it is a basic human right and is central to our identity.
Now, whilst I didn’t indicate the methods of citizens standing up for themselves, one could argue that these class actions are a method of doing just that.
If people enter into environments where their data is held and used, then at the very least, that information should be upfront, enabling people to have the freedom of choice. Not hidden within a cluster of terms and conditions or un-readable screens.
In my opinion, if companies run practices that are ethically questionable around the areas I’ve spoken about, I think the least they can expect is the odd class action now and again.
Actually, that’s too subtle.
I predict we will see the demise of one or more social network platforms in the future, from mass class action, around unarguable and demonstrable evidence of malpractice in the context of human rights.
The reason I started this chapter with evidence is because the trend has already commenced.
Welcome to the rise of social network class action.
Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/