In a ruling with implications for both net neutrality and privacy, the Ninth Circuit ruled en banc today that the common carrier exemption in Section 5 of the FTC Act is activity-based, reversing a 2016 panel ruling that the exemption was status-based.  Today’s decision bolsters the FTC’s authority to bring consumer protection (including privacy) and competition actions against providers of Internet access service, which the FCC has ruled is not a common carrier service in connection with that agency’s repeal of net neutrality rules.

This appeal arises from the FTC’s lawsuit against AT&T alleging that AT&T’s practice of throttling the speed of customers with unlimited data plans once they reached a certain data usage threshold violated Section 5 of the FTC Act.  AT&T had challenged the FTC’s authority to bring the case, arguing that the company was immune from FTC oversight because it also offers common carrier (e.g., voice telephone) service.  Although the district court sided with the FTC on this question, a 2016 Ninth Circuit panel went the other way and, in doing so, created what the FTC and FCC agreed was a potential ‘gap’ in authority in which neither agency would have the right to police many actions by telecommunications companies. 
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Decision Provides Critical Win to FTC in its Authority over Internet Service Providers

The closely watched lawsuit alleging Spokeo, Inc., violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) may proceed, after a federal appeals court ruled — on remand from the Supreme Court — that publication of the inaccuracies alleged by the plaintiff would constitute a sufficiently “concrete” harm to give the plaintiff standing to sue in federal court. 

The Ninth Circuit announced today that the full court will rehear the case in which the three-judge panel opinion had dismissed the FTC’s lawsuit against AT&T for allegedly violating Section 5 of the FTC Act due to past “throttling” practices around unlimited data plans.  According to the panel opinion, the FTC lacked jurisdiction over AT&T’s

On Monday, a panel of the Ninth Circuit unanimously ruled that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) protected Yelp from liability relating to an allegedly defamatory user-generated review.  In doing so, the Court rejected several attempts by the Plaintiff to plead around the CDA’s broad immunity provisions by accusing Yelp of playing a

In an opinion released today, the Ninth Circuit dismissed the Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) lawsuit against AT&T for violating Section 5 of the FTC Act due to its throttling practices.  AT&T’s practice of throttling the speed of customers with unlimited data plans once they reached a certain data usage threshold had been challenged by the FTC as both unfair and deceptive under Section 5.  The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s prior ruling denying AT&T’s motion to dismiss on the ground that AT&T was a common carrier and therefore exempt from Section 5 of the FTC Act.
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Dismisses FTC’s Throttling Suit Against AT&T

Courts continue to grapple with how to apply existing privacy laws to new (and even not-so-new) technology. The recent Ninth Circuit decision, affirming the Northern District of California’s decision to dismiss a proposed class action suit against Pandora for disclosure of listener music preferences in violation of Michigan’s Preservation of Personal Privacy Act (PPPA), resolved the narrow question before it while explicitly leaving others open. Although Pandora can continue to disclose listener preference data publicly, subject to its Terms of Use, the decision leaves unsettled how broadly this right could apply, and how current and future technologies could impact that right.

After certifying to the Michigan Supreme Court the questions of whether Pandora is in the business of “renting” or “lending” sound recordings, and if the plaintiff  (Peter Deacon) is a “customer” of Pandora under the PPPA, the Ninth Circuit adopted the Michigan court’s interpretation that Pandora, through its free, ad-supported service, is not in the business of renting or lending sound recordings and that Deacon is not a customer under the PPPA.
Continue Reading Users of Pandora’s Free Service Are Not Customers Under Michigan Privacy Statute, But Questions Remain

The Supreme Court released its highly anticipated decision yesterday in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, which addresses whether plaintiffs have standing to pursue statutory damages even in the absence of actual harm under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”).  As we previously reported, the case was expected to have significant down-stream implications for standing in privacy class action litigation, because numerous privacy-related federal laws have been construed to allow statutory damages even in the absence of actual injury (e.g., the Telephone Consumer Protection Act).
Continue Reading Supreme Court Issues Highly Anticipated Spokeo Decision

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed lower-court dismissals of two lawsuits under California’s “Shine the Light” law.  Shine the Light (or “STL”) requires businesses that disclose customers’ personal information to third parties for those parties’ direct marketing purposes to respond to customer requests for information about such disclosures.  The