Refunds for Minors, Parents, and Guardians for Purchases of Facebook Credits

On May 26, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California approved the settlement of a class action against Facebook involving in-app purchases of Facebook Credits by minor children. The case was maintained on behalf of a class of children who were Facebook users (“child users”) below the age of 18 from whose Facebook accounts Facebook Credits were purchased. The case was filed by two minor children through their parents on February 23, 2012. The two children and the class were represented by attorneys Brooks Cutter and John R. Parker of the Cutter Law Firm in Sacramento, California; Daniel B. Edelman of the firm of Katz, Marshall & Banks in Washington, D.C.; and Benjamin Edelman, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School. On March 10, 2015, the Court certified the case as a class action for purposes of declaratory and injunctive relief on behalf of all minor children who were users of Facebook from whose Facebook accounts Facebook Credits were purchased at any time between February 23, 2008 and the date of the certification order, March 10, 2015. At the same time, the Court declined to certify a class action for purposes of class-wide monetary relief.

During the period covered by the suit, hundreds of thousands of child users purchased Facebook Credits for use in playing Facebook-based games and applications. To make such purchases, child users generally used credit cards, debit cards or other payment instruments that belonged to their parents or other responsible adults. Facebook made a practice of retaining the payment information provided at the time of the child user’s initial purchase for easy use in later purchases. Facebook advised that purchases by children were to be made only with the permission of the parent or guardian. Facebook did not, however, require evidence that any of the purchases was actually authorized by the parent, guardian or owner of the payment instrument. In many instances, the child user did not have authorization to use the card or other payment instrument to purchase Facebook Credits. Facebook specified in its terms of use that all transactions are “final”. It later stated that all transactions are “final except as otherwise required by law”.

Facebook’s Terms of Use state that purchase transactions are governed by the law of California. The Family Code of California provides that contracts with minors are voidable by the minor at any time before attaining the age of 18 or within a reasonable time thereafter. The court applied that principle to this case: “The law shields minors from their lack of judgment and experience and under certain conditions vests in them the right to disaffirm their contracts. Although in many instances such disaffirmance may be a hardship upon those who deal with an infant, the right to avoid his contracts is conferred by law upon a minor for his protection against his own improvidence and the designs of others. It is the policy of the law to protect a minor against himself and his indiscretions and immaturity as well as against the machinations of other people and to discourage adults from contracting with an infant.” (MTD decision, October 25, 2012, at pp. 11-12.) The court continued: “[O]ne who provides a minor with goods and services does so at her own risk.” (Id. at p.12.)

Facebook defended the claims in part by arguing that kids had received and used the electronic goods they paid for. The court specifically rejected this reasoning, finding that kids are entitled to refunds even for items they used. “Under California law, a minor may disaffirm all obligations under a contract, even for services previously rendered, without restoring consideration or the value of services rendered to the other party.” (MTD Decision at p.14, internal quotation marks omitted)

Prior to the settlement, Facebook provided an online procedure for refund requests in various specific circumstances such as fraudulent use of a user’s account by a third-party. Facebook’s refund procedure did not include an option to request a refund on the ground that the purchase was made when the user was a minor.

The settlement requires Facebook to apply refund practices and policies with respect to U.S. minors that comply with the California Family Code.

The settlement further requires Facebook to “add to its refund request form for In-App Purchases for U.S. users a checkbox or substantially similar functionality with accompanying text such that users are able to indicate that the In-App Purchases for which they are seeking a refund was made when the user was minor.”

The settlement additionally requires Facebook to “implement a dedicated queue within Facebook to address refund requests in In-App Purchases, made by U.S. Minors subject to verification of minority. The employees staffing the dedicated queue will receive further training regarding how to analyze and process such refund requests in accordance with applicable law.”

If you or your minor child were charged for Facebook credits purchased from an account belonging to someone age 17 or younger, you may be entitled to obtain refunds for such purchases through the use of the dedicated queue established by Facebook as a result of the settlement. Both minor account holders and the parents and guardians of such minors are entitled to claim such refunds. Claim refunds via the Facebook refund tool.

Free access to selected case documents via

Bitcoin: Economics, Technology, and Governance

Böhme, Rainer, Nicolas Christin, Benjamin Edelman, and Tyler Moore. “Bitcoin: Economics, Technology, and Governance.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 29, no. 2 (Spring 2015): 213-238.

Bitcoin is an online communication protocol that facilitates virtual currency including electronic payments. Since its inception in 2009 by an anonymous group of developers, Bitcoin has served tens of millions of transactions with total dollar value in the billions. Users have been drawn to Bitcoin for its decentralization, intentionally relying on no single server or set of servers to store transactions and also avoiding any single party that can ban certain participants or certain types of transactions. Bitcoin is of interest to economists in part for its potential to disrupt existing payment systems and perhaps monetary systems as well as for the wealth of data it provides about agents’ behavior and about the Bitcoin system itself. This article presents the platform’s design principles and properties for a non-technical audience; reviews its past, present, and future uses; and points out risks and regulatory issues as Bitcoin interacts with the conventional financial system and the real economy.

Pivots and Incentives at LevelUp (teaching materials) with Karen Webster

Edelman, Benjamin, and Karen Webster. “Pivots and Incentives at LevelUp.” Harvard Business School Case 915-001, August 2014. (Revised March 2015.) (educator access at HBP. request courtesy copy.)

LevelUp’s mobile payments service lets users scan a smartphone barcode rather than swipe a credit card. Will consumers embrace the service? Will merchants? LevelUp considers adjustments to make the service attractive to both consumers and merchants, while trying to accelerate deployment at reasonable cost.

Teaching Materials:

Pivots and Incentives at LevelUp – Teaching Note (HBP 915015)

Optimization and Expansion at OpenTable (teaching materials) with Karen Webster

Edelman, Benjamin, and Karen Webster. “Optimization and Expansion at OpenTable.” Harvard Business School Case 915-003, August 2014. (Revised March 2015.) (educator access at HBP. request courtesy copy.)

OpenTable considers adjustments to increase its benefits to merchants, including a novel payments service that lets customers skip the multi-step process of using a credit card.


Optimization and Expansion at OpenTable – PowerPoint Supplement (HBP 910010)

Teaching Materials:

Optimization and Expansion at OpenTable – Teaching Note (HBP 915013)

Deception in Post-Transaction Marketing updated December 5, 2009

Post-transaction marketers Webloyalty, Vertrue, and Affinion have attracted criticism for solicitations that tend to deceive consumers. They typically feature recurring billing programs that promise a savings or discount, but actually charge users on an ongoing basis. They promote these services while customers are finishing the checkout process at trusted e-commerce sites — a time when few users expect unrelated offers from third parties. Furthermore, they obtain consumers’ credit card numbers from partner sites — so a user may enter a billing relationship and face credit card charges without providing a card number to the company that posts the charges.

In this posting, I present key primary source documents (internal company emails and analyses and reports from victim consumers) as well as outside analyses (a Senate staff report and testimony from hearing witnesses including my own statement for the record).

Higlights of my Statement for the Record: I argue that the timing, placement, and format of post-transaction offers deceptively suggest that the offers are part of the checkout process. (3) I suggest that automatic transfer of consumers’ payment information removes a key warning that customers are incurring a financial obligation. (3-4) I examine disclosures and find them inadequate to cure the deception resulting from the substance, format, and context of the offers. (5) I point out that credit card network rules disallow key post-transaction marketing practices, and I suggest that credit card networks enforce these rules. (6-7) I suggests that low usage rates support an inference of deception, and I provide an empirical strategy to estimate usage rates from publicly-available sources. (7)


Deception in Post-Transaction Marketing

In a subsequent analysis, I cite, quote, and analyze relevant credit card network rules — finding that those requirements disallow key post-transaction marketing practices:

Payment Card Network Rules Prohibit Aggressive Post-Transaction Tactics

Consumer Payment Systems — Japan (teaching materials) with Andrei Hagiu

Edelman, Benjamin, and Andrei Hagiu. “Consumer Payment Systems — Japan.” Harvard Business School Case 909-007, August 2008. (Revised May 2009.) (educator access at HBP. request a courtesy copy.)

In 2008, the Japanese consumer payments landscape featured ongoing widespread use of cash, limited use of credit cards and rapid rise of e-money systems based on contactless technology embedded in cards and especially mobile phones. The case details the alliances that created new products, as well as the regulations that sometimes stood in the way. Throughout, the case identifies incentives for both consumers and merchants, including direct costs, efficiency benefits, rebates, and treatment in case of loss or fraud.

Teaching Materials:

Consumer Payment Systems — United States and Japan – Teaching Note (HBP 909039)

Consumer Payment Systems — United States (teaching materials) with Andrei Hagiu

Edelman, Benjamin, and Andrei Hagiu. “Consumer Payment Systems — United States.” Harvard Business School Case 909-006, August 2008. (Revised July 2011.) (educator access at HBP. request a courtesy copy.)

In 2008, the U.S. consumer payments landscape was characterized by the ongoing prevalence of credit and debit card networks, the decline of checks, the rise of stored value cards, and the growth of new payment methods such as PayPal, Bill Me Later, and decoupled debit. This case presents the structure of these payment methods, focusing on incentives for both consumers and merchants, including direct costs, efficiency benefits, rebates, and treatment in case of loss or fraud.

Teaching Materials:

Consumer Payment Systems — United States and Japan – Teaching Note (HBP 909039)