Analysis and Commentary on Consumer Law
Good2Go? Good and Gone? Why an Affirmative Consent App Is a Risky Proposition

University of Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a smartphone app known as Good2Go, which is intended to establish affirmative consent for the purpose of sexual encounters. Ramasastry describes some of the app’s shortcomings, including its lack of specificity with regard to what is consented to and its lax information privacy policy.

Stalking Us as We Shop: HP’s New Smartshopper App

Hewlett Packard (HP) has unveiled a new mobile app that retailers can use to stalk people as they shop, to send them targeted ads and promotions. Called SmartShopper, it was unveiled at the Interop conference in Las Vegas at the end of March. It has the ability to send location-based smartphone offers to customers’ iPhones in real time. Promoted by Meg Whitman, CEO of HP, as a way for retailers to monetize their networks and build “tighter relationships with their customers,” this is not the first time that so-called stalker apps have been in the news as being intrusive of consumer privacy. Here, Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry looks at two recent examples of so-called stalker-shopper apps, and legislative attempts to address these new ways of tracking our movements and behavior.

Should Mt. Gox Be Bailed Out? What Should Regulators Do in Light of a Major Bitcoin Heist?

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on recent headlines that caused a panic in the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency world: The largest Bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, was reporting a loss of nearly 750,000 Bitcoins currency units. (Prominent Bitcoin blogger Ryan Selkis made a post to his blog in which he described an unverified report of the loss.) This figure would be worth above $400 million at current prices. As of now, Mt. Gox, which is incorporated in Japan, has filed for insolvency protection there. Ramasastry comments on key events, and possible future reforms that could be put in place so that this situation does not recur.

Bitcoin: If You Can’t Ban It, Should You Regulate It? The Merits of Legalization

Justia columnist and U.Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the question whether Bitcoin—a so-called virtual peer-to-peer currency—should be regulated by the U.S. and/or States within it. (Along with the Treasury Department, California and New York are also contemplating possible legal or regulatory measures regarding Bitcoin.) Ramasastry looks at recent attempts to extend legal recognition to Bitcoin, and explains why she believes this is a good thing. She adds that while it may be good to clarify that legitimate businesses and consumers may use Bitcoin, it may be too early now to determine what, if any, further measures are needed to provide consumers with needed safety with respect to their Bitcoins.

The Spokeo Lawsuit and the Perils of the New People Finder Companies

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a possible regulatory issue regarding Spokeo, which bills itself as a people-finder service. Spokeo warns subscribers that they cannot use its information to make decisions about a person’s employment, to make a credit determination, or to put the information to uses that would be covered by a federal law known as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). But as a recent lawsuit illustrates, Spokeo’s data may be being used for such purposes, regardless, raising the possibility of the need for better safeguards.

The Implications of Suing the NFL’s Super Bowl Ticketing Scheme

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the story of Josh Finkelman, 28 years old, the president of a warehouse business, and a serious football fan, who went looking for Super Bowl XLVIII tickets and ended up taking on the entire National Football League’s (NFL) Super Bowl ticketing system. Dean predicts that Finkelman’s lawsuit, if it goes forward, could be a doozy, and explains the New Jersey law that may make a lawsuit possible.

OfficeMax’s Deceased Daughter Mail Blunder and the Limits of Privacy Law

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a situation involving Mike Seay and his wife, who have been mourning the loss of their daughter, Ashley, for just under a year. Last week, the Seays received an unwelcome reminder of Ashley’s untimely passing in the mail: It came in the form of a flier from the office supply store OfficeMax, addressed to Ashley’s father, in these words: ”Mike Seay, Daughter Killed in Car Crash.” In addition to that egregious incident, Ramasastry also discusses the growing phenomenon of data aggregation, and the fact that the large-scale collection of data leads to harmful consequences for consumers when companies keep tabs on us in ways that are unrelated to our ordinary commercial transactions, as the Seays painfully learned.

Why Holiday Headaches From the Target Debit-Card Breach May Not Amount to Viable Legal Claims

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry explains how even a massive data breach like the one Target recently experienced may not lead to a winnable lawsuit, although it has sullied the company's reputation. FTC action may possibly ensue, but class actions may not work in this context, for reasons that Ramasastry explains.

Who Is Looking at Your Kids’ School Data? Why Congress Needs to Take Note

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on school districts' sharing student data with private companies that manage various functions for the districts. How did this happen? Because, Ramasastry notes, in recent years, Congress has made changes to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that have created a potentially broad loophole regarding who has access to student data.

I Don’t Want Michael Bromwich Messing With My Next iPhone

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the antitrust case against Apple, charging the company with conspiring to price fix e-books. Dean questions the judgment of the Southern District of New York judge, Denise Cote who was overseeing the case before it went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In particular, Dean questions the decisions of Apple's court-ordered external monitor, Michael Bromwich, for reasons that Dean details.

Teens and Online “Eraser” Laws: Good Intentions, but the Wrong Approach?

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a Utah bill that, if passed, would allow teens to erase their social-media footprints permanently. Ramasastry notes that teens can have their juvenile criminal records sealed, and can repudiate contracts they have signed. Thus, she notes, there are precedents under which minors are treated differently from adults under the law. Ramasastry also covers related events in California, and notes that we should focus, too, on how social-media postings can, and cannot, be able to be legally used in the future, especially when jobs and credit are concerned.

Debt Collecting by Text: Why This Practice Should Be Prohibited Absent Express Consumer Consent

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on why and how debt collection is often done by text, as opposed to other means, describing the sources that pertain to this area of law, including federal statutes. Ramasastry argues that this practice of texting ought to be prohibited unless consumers explicitly consent to it, and discusses a recent FTC enforcement action in this area of law.

Are Internet Providers, in Fact, at Risk for Defamation Liability?

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the case of Sarah Jones v. Dirty World Entertainment, which he notes raises a fundamental question about the scope of immunity from defamation liability for Internet Service Providers under Section 230 of The Communications Decency Act (CDA). Dean predicts that the case will be watched closely, as an indication of whether the courts will, in fact, start policing the nearly unlimited immunity that has evolved under Section 230. There are good arguments on both sides of this case, Dean notes, making the case an especially interesting one.

Should There Be a Right to Reclaim Your Name? The Harm of Errors in Consumer-Data Collection and Some Possible Solutions

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on consumers' problems with correcting credit reports that are inaccurate and damaging. She also describes a related FTC initiative in this area that helps consumers regain their good names, and their good credit, when credit-report errors have unfairly soiled them.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Crusade to Block Internet Porn: Why His Plan Is Messier Than He Thinks

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the controversy in the U.K. regarding Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans for government Internet filtering. She notes that while almost everyone agrees that children’s Internet access should be regulated, the Cameron Plan for such regulation has numerous flaws—including an overbreadth that would unfairly censor worthwhile and even educational material from which teenagers would benefit. Ramasastry notes that British teens may well find a way to avoid the filters, or change them by secretly getting their parents’ IDs. She also contrasts the U.K. proposal on filtering, with the First Amendment-informed U.S. approach to the same issues when they have arisen here vis-à-vis libraries and schools.

Shopping Under Surveillance: Why We Should Think Twice About Letting Retailers Track Us in Stores

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the ways in which retailers at brick-and-mortar stores are profiling us. She notes that most of us realize that online stores can easily profile us, but many of us may not know that brick-and-mortar stores do the same thing in a different context. Ramasastry describes how these stores may track what we look at, where we browse and linger, what we might pick up and examine but then not ultimately buy. What department or section do we head for? How long do we spend in the sections of the store that we visit? Retailers now have access to this data due to our cellphones, but Ramasastry notes that we can thwart the surveillance by turning off the Wi-Fi feature of your phone, or putting it on airplane mode. In addition, Ramasastry urges, we ought to know when we are being monitored.

Multilevel Marketing: How to Avoid Building the Pyramid

Attorneys Jonathan E. Turco and David O. Klein comment on how companies can engage in perfectly legal multilevel marketing without running the risk of engaging in an illegal pyramid scheme. Turco and Klein detail how the two differ; explain the rules of the road regarding multilevel marketing; and comment on both state and federal regulations in this area of law, including a set of FTC safeguards.

Teens and Tiaras: Virtual Beauty Contests on Instagram, and Why the Company Should Do Something About Them

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses Instragram’s issue with users’ rating the appearance of young girls in beauty pageants online, and leaving comments both positive and negative. Ramasastry notes that such pageants may raise legal issues and privacy concerns and may trigger issues under COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, holds the James J. Freeland Eminent Scholar... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973.... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately... more