Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.
Showing posts with label FTC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FTC. Show all posts

Monday, January 24, 2022

American Airlines resists transparency, sues 'Points Guy' for tortious interference, trademark infringement

Photo by RJ Peltz-Steele at O.R. Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg,
South Africa, 2020 (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The Points Guy (TPG) has become embroiled in litigation with American Airlines over how the TPG app lets users manage their frequent flyer miles, the airline charging the website with tortious interference and trademark infringement.

I read TPG every day.  The website is funded by product placements and advertising, especially by credit card companies.  One has to know that and take the content with heaps of salt.  But I find TPG incomparable and nonetheless worthwhile for keeping up with the travel industry.  And TPG advice has been especially helpful to me with advice on frequent flyer programs, for example, letting me know how much miles are worth on average in real dollars, so I know whether dynamic redemption tables are offering a good deal.

I also like some of the writers at TPG, because they set a tone that resonates with me, mixing a desire for industry accountability, especially for airlines, with a sense of humor and a lighthearted wonder of the world.  Baltimore-based senior editor Benét J. Wilson (LinkedIn, Muck Rack, Twitter; see also Poynter) is especially fabulous; check out her wider world at Aviation Queen.  I met Benét when she taught an outstanding program on advanced Google research tools for the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC), and thereby for my FOI Law students, who participated.

Last year, TPG launched an Apple app.  I haven't used it, because I'm an Android user.  I avoid Apple products because I've never been a fan of Apple intellectual property (IP) policies, which I mention because it's relevant here.  Apple's limited submission to a right of repair for Apple smartphones is a step in the right direction; more on that momentarily.  Anyway, TPG is working on the Android version of the app.

Among many features, the TPG app empowers users to manage their frequent flyer miles.  TPG deep-links to data from sites such as that of American Airlines (AA), within users' accounts there.  Obviously, this access improves the user's ability to maximize the value of their miles, recognizing good deals and, key, getting advance warning when miles are set to expire.

AA was not happy about that.  The company accused TPG of violating the terms and conditions of the website and frequent flyer program, AAdvantage, thus, allegedly, interfering with AA's contract with its customers and infringing on AA IP.  According to media reports, TPG sued AA in Delaware state court the week before last.  I assume TPG sought declaratory relief; at the time of this writing, the complaint is not yet available from Delaware courts.

Then on Tuesday last week, AA sued TPG in federal court, in AA's home Northern District of Texas.  The complaint alleged tortious interference with, inter alia, contract, unfair competition by misappropriation, (virtual) trespass, trademark infringement and dilution, copyright infringement, and violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

For Law360, Jasmin Jackson filled in some background last week (limited access without subscription).  Jackson reported that TPG initially sought AA's partnership in the app.  AA declined.  Since the app's launch, the two were discussing their differences.  AA claimed surprise at TPG's Delaware filing and accused TPG of leveraging its position with litigation costs and compelling, AA said, the suit in Texas.

I see the case as a high-tech relation of the right-to-repair problem.  AA is gaining a business advantage through obfuscation of customer data and control of information under the guise of IP protection.  The same strategy is why I have to pay a high-dollar technician to tell me what's wrong with my car when the check-engine light comes on, and it's why 11% of McDonald's Taylor-made McFlurry machines are broken.

Customer frustration with companies' resistance to transactional transparency to maximize profit margins is manifesting in a wave of state legislation to protect consumers (see N.Y. Times July, Oct. 2021; repair industry website; U.S. PIRG).  Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved a right-to-repair ballot initiative in 2020, despite a $25m no campaign by the auto industry (on this blog).  Industry promptly sued, principally claiming federal preemption.  The outcome of a 2021 trial in Alliance for Automotive Innovation v. Healy is still awaited, as the parties battle over a state motion to reopen trial evidence.

There is a Fair Repair Act bill in Congress, even if its odds of passage are dismal.  And the President last summer made overtures, however feeble, ordering the Federal Trade Commission to regulate to protect independent repair shops.  Industry claims it needs exclusive repair rights to protect consumers from incompetent independent technicians.  But a May 2021 FTC report located such industry claims somewhere between baseless and overstated.

The cause should be, and at least sometimes is, bipartisan.  As I have commented many times, free markets depend on transparency, the free flow of information between business and consumer.  So even economic conservatives should be able to get behind the right to repair.  That bipartisan impulse has fueled congressional appetite for now pending bills to enhance antitrust in the tech sector.  Apple's seemingly open-minded move to allow smartphone repair might have been calculated to head off antitrust enforcement.

Summons issued last week in the lawsuit filed by AA, which is American Airlines, Inc. v. Red Ventures LLC, No. 4:22-cv-00044 (N.D. Tex. filed Jan. 18, 2022).

Friday, September 25, 2020

Boston Bar panel surveys landscape of privacy law, data protection policy, class action litigation

Attorneys Melanie Conroy, Marjan Hajibandeh, and Matthew M.K. Stein
We had great fun yesterday, as lawyer fun goes, talking about privacy law in the United States, from the impact of the Privacy Shield collapse to the latest litigation under California's groundbreaking consumer privacy protection law.  I was privileged to appear in a Boston Bar Association program on privacy class action litigation, led by attorney Melanie A. Conroy, CIPP/US, of Pierce Atwood LLP, alongside practicing-attorney panelists Matthew M.K. Stein, of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, and Marjan Hajibandeh of CarGurus, Inc. 

Our topical reach was a breathless sprint across a dramatic landscape.  We opened with our respective thoughts on developments in privacy law, Conroy observing that the fast-paced field has undergone seismic shifts again and again in recent years, from the implementation of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) to the $18m Equifax data breach settlement in Massachusetts.

I spoke to the impact of the European Court of Justice decision ("Schrems II" (ECJ July 16, 2020)) invalidating the U.S.-EU Privacy Shield as a motivator for U.S. reform.  Besides the significance of the case in Europe and our foreign relations, the decision signals that a quarter century after adoption of the first European Data Protection Directive, Europe's patience with American recalcitrance has finally run out.

Julie Brill (MS CC) and William Kovacic
Former Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill told the Senate Commerce Committee this week that in two years, 65% of the world will be living under data protection laws, most of them modeled after the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).  As former Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman William Kovacic put it, if we don't pass legislation in the United States, "we will get a national privacy policy: the GDPR."  As I tweeted this week, hearing testimony drove the usually cool and collected Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to exclaim, "My God, this is clear, we need a strong privacy law." And Americans are ready; Brill said that nine out of ten Americans now believe that privacy is a human right.

Sen. Cantwell
Our panel ran down the latest developments in class action privacy litigation, loosely divided on the fronts of biometric data class actions, mostly arising under Illinois's pioneering Biometric Information Privacy Act; CCPA-related class actions in California; and data breach litigation.  I ran down cases in the latter vein and talked some about the present circuit split over Article III standing.  Federal courts have divided over whether "theft alone" can constitute concrete injury for constitutionally minimal standing, or plaintiffs must show some subsequent misuse of their data.  This issue is not limited to the data breach area, but has implications across a wide range of statutory enforcement systems, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

For my part, I predict that our dawning, if belated, understanding of the monetary value of personally identifiable information (PII) will lead us to the inevitable conclusion that theft alone suffices.  This is evidenced, for example, in Hogan v. NBCUniversal (D.R.I. filed Aug. 27, 2020), over the sale of Golf Channel subscriber identities, which subsequently were associated with other PII and resold.  Though for the time being, my favored conclusion is arguably not the inclination evidenced in the U.S. Supreme Court in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, in 2016.  Senator Dick Blumenthal (D.-Conn.) mentioned this week, apropos of current events, that Justice Ginbsburg, joined by Justice Sotomayor, dissented in Spokeo on just this point.

The late Justice Ginsburg; Sen. Blumenthal
Our next panel focus was developments in the First Circuit and Massachusetts.  In Massachusetts Superior Court in Boston, data breach litigation, filed in May 2019, against Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham & Women's Hospital, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, over online patient-service communications occurring outside secure portals, raises the very question of concrete harm, which may be resolved differently at the state level than under the federal Constitution.  Meanwhile in federal court, the same issue in data breach litigation, filed in March 2020, in Hartigan v. Macy's, highlights the lack of First Circuit precedent on the question since Spokeo, while citing strong pre-Spokeo indications that the First Circuit would favor the misuse-required position.

In parting observations, I offered that we have a long road ahead.  Of all the bills pending in Congress (see EPIC's excellent April report), only some propose a private cause of action and none attacks the problem of government surveillance, both purported prerequisites to European restoration of authorized trans-Atlantic data flow.  Within the U.S Congress, there appears to be bipartisan support for some kind of nationwide privacy legislation.  But the questions of private or FTC enforcement, and whether preemption would mean a legislative floor or ceiling remain sticking points that could derail the process.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Abstract: Arthur on vaccination and consumer protection

Donald C. Arthur, M.D., J.D. UMass Law '17, has published Commercial Deception by Anti-Vaccine Homeopathic Websites: A Consumer Protection Approach, 10 Biotechnology & Pharmaceutical L. Rev. 1, 27 (2017).  Here is the abstract.

Abstract
Some internet marketers offer for sale “vaccination substitutes” that can purportedly replace actual scientifically-tested and federally-approved vaccinations. Deceptive internet advertising for vaccine substitutes has dissuaded parents from vaccinating their children, resulting in a resurgence of vaccine-preventable childhood diseases. The Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission have the authority to address dangerously deceptive product claims, including those for homeopathic preparations that have thus far avoided safety and efficacy testing. This article presents the issues involved in deceptive advertising and proposes regulatory solutions.
The article is available to Westlaw Next subscribers here.  The Review is published at North Carolina Central University School of Law.

Claiming Don as an alumnus is decidedly my privilege.  Dr. Arthur is an emergency medicine and preventive medicine physician.  He served 33 years in the U.S. Navy, culminating his career as Navy surgeon general and retiring at the rank of vice admiral. He served as chief executive officer of three hospitals, including the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.