Last month, a California district court granted a web-based service’s motion to compel arbitration of a putative class action brought by a user whose personal information was allegedly accessed in a massive 2016 data breach that involved 339 million user accounts. (Gutierrez v. FriendFinder Networks Inc., No. 18-05918 (N.D. Cal. May 3, 2019)). While the opinion noted that courts in the Ninth Circuit are traditionally “reluctant to enforce browsewrap agreements against individual consumers,” the outcome of the case suggests that enforcement of website terms is not just a straight up-or-down analysis of the method used to present the terms to the user but may involve tangential, yet important interactions between the user and the site outside the initial registration process.
In Nghiem v Dick’s Sporting Goods, Inc., No. 16-00097 (C.D. Cal. July 5, 2016), the Central District of California held browsewrap terms to be unenforceable because the hyperlink to the terms was “sandwiched” between two links near the bottom of the third column of links in a website footer. Website developers – and their lawyers – should take note of this case, part of an emerging trend of judicial scrutiny over how browsewrap terms are presented. Courts have, in many instances, refused to enforce browsewraps due to a finding of a lack of user notice and assent. In this case, the most recent example of a court’s specific analysis of website design, a court suggests that what has become a fairly standard approach to browsewrap presentment fails to achieve the intended purpose.