Complaint Alleges Zynga Helps Create 'ScamVille' Ads, Seeks Class-Action Status

by , Feb 23, 2010, 7:01 PM
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ScamVille

A consumer suing gaming company Zynga alleges in new court papers that the company helped to create and develop questionable ads that appear in its games like "FarmVille," "Mafia Wars," and "YoVille"

In an amended complaint, Rebecca Swift of Santa Cruz, Calif. alleges that Zynga and performance marketing company Adknowledge worked together to create ads that are "highly misleading and often result in users subscribing to goods or services that they do not want or need." The new papers, filed earlier this month in federal district court in the northern district of California, also name Adknowledge as a defendant in the lawsuit. Swift is seeking class-action status.

In her original complaint -- against Zynga as well as Facebook (where Zynga distributes games as free apps) -- Swift alleged that the two companies profited from "highly misleading" ads placed within its games. But legal experts said that such allegations were not likely to get far in court because the federal Communications Decency Act provides that interactive services providers like Facebook and Zynga are not liable when outside parties create or post unlawful content -- even when the Web companies profit from the material. Swift withdrew the lawsuit against Facebook last month.

Swift alleges that she lost about $200 as a result of misleading ads. She says that last year, while playing YoVille, she allegedly signed up for a "risk-free" trial of monthly shipments of a green tea supplement in order to earn virtual currency used in the game. While the ads said that consumers could cancel within 15 days, Swift alleges that the company refused to honor her request to cancel, ultimately resulting in $165 in charges to her debit card. On another occasion this year, she responded to an ad for YoCash by entering her cell phone number, which allegedly resulted in her being billed for about $30 without her consent.

In this newest complaint against Zynga, Swift alleges that the company did more than simply allow other parties to run scam ads in games. But the papers filed on her behalf still don't appear to explain exactly how Zynga allegedly helped develop the ads. For that reason, some legal experts say that even the new complaint still might be too skimpy to hold up in court.

"There certainly are some courts out there that would say you need something more specific -- but not all courts would," says Rebecca Tushnet, a law professor at Georgetown and expert in legal issues related to false advertising. She says that Swift's lawyers could see the case knocked out of court if the judge doesn't think they alleged sufficient facts to show that Zynga went beyond acting as an interactive services provider. "If the judge says, 'A simple allegation that they participated isn't enough; you have to give me some facts showing what the participation was,' then they have a problem."

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