In Opinion, Israeli Attorney General Affirms Privacy Class Action vs. Facebook

Facebook's demand that any legal dispute with users be adjudicated in a California court is a discriminatory condition, Avichai Mendelblit says

Facebook Israel CEO Adi Soffer-Teeni
Ofer Vaknin

The insistence by Facebook, Inc. that any legal dispute with users be adjudicated in a California court is a discriminatory condition, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit wrote in a legal opinion he submitted to Israel’s Supreme Court.

He submitted the opinion in the context of an appeal by Facebook appeal of a June 2016 ruling by Central District Court Judge Esther Stemmer, allowing a class action against the social media company to proceed.

Stemmer rejected Facebook’s arguments regarding bringing suit only in California. She was ruling on a request by Ohad Ben Hamo to declare an action he was bringing against Facebook a class action. The class action claims that Facebook monitored users’ private messages, read them and made improper use of them without informing users, in violation of Israeli law.

Facebook has repeatedly argued in suits filed against it in Israel and in other countries that every legal dispute with the company must be resolved in a California court, because every user agrees to that when he agrees to the company’s terms of service, where such a clause indeed appears.

“You will resolve any claim, cause of action or dispute (claim) you have with us arising out of or relating to this Statement or Facebook exclusively in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California or a state court located in San Mateo County, and you agree to submit to the personal jurisdiction of such courts for the purpose of litigating all such claims. The laws of the State of California will govern this Statement, as well as any claim that might arise between you and us, without regard to conflict of law provisions,” the clause reads.

Stemmer, however, rejected Facebook’s argument, stating, “It’s possible that the time has come to examine this issue from a different angle — the viewpoint of the consumer, especially when he is a customer of huge international companies that are contending for customers all over the world,” she wrote in her ruling.

“It isn’t clear that the weight of Facebook’s right to litigate in one place in the world, as it established in the unified contracts that it signs users to, is greater than the right of all users to an available remedy in their own countries,” she added. “It seems that whoever markets his wares must be prepared to be sued in any country in which he does substantial business.”

The attorney general’s position, submitted by attorney Limor Peled from the State Prosecutions Civil Department, is similar, making an effort to balance the power between Israeli consumers and huge international corporations like Facebook and PayPal, “who in engaging with the Israeli market add to its standard contracts litigation conditions that deter and make it difficult for consumers to file suit and uphold their rights.”