Consumer Protection

Attorney General Bonta: Unredacted Federal Lawsuit Against Meta “Damning”

November 27, 2023
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced the public release of a largely unredacted copy of the federal complaint filed by a bipartisan coalition of 33 attorneys general against Meta Platforms, Inc. and affiliates (Meta) on October 24, 2023. Co-led by Attorney General Bonta, the coalition is alleging that Meta designed and deployed harmful features on Instagram and Facebook that addict children and teens to their mental and physical detriment. As originally filed, however, much of the federal complaint included information conditionally under seal. Based on the company's own documents, the removal of the redactions provides additional context for the misconduct that the attorneys general allege against Meta. 

“Meta knows that what it is doing is bad for kids — period. Thanks to our unredacted federal complaint, it is now there in black and white, and it is damning,” said Attorney General Bonta. “We will continue to vigorously prosecute this matter.”

Highlights from the newly revealed portions of the complaint include the following:

  • Mark Zuckerberg personally vetoed Meta’s proposed policy to ban image filters that simulated the effects of plastic surgery, despite internal pushback and an expert consensus that such filters harm users’ mental health, especially for women and girls. Complaint ¶¶ 333-68.
  • Despite public statements that Meta does not prioritize the amount of time users spend on its social media platforms, internal documents show that Meta set explicit goals of increasing “time spent” and meticulously tracked engagement metrics, including among teen users. Complaint ¶¶ 134-150.
  • Meta continuously misrepresented that its social media platforms were safe, while internal data revealed that users experienced harms on its platforms at far higher rates. Complaint ¶¶ 458-507.
  • Meta knows that its social media platforms are used by millions of children under 13, including, at one point, around 30% of all 10–12-year-olds, and unlawfully collects their personal information. Meta does this despite Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress in 2021 that Meta “kicks off” children under 13. Complaint ¶¶ 642-811. 

A copy of the largely unredacted complaint can be found here

Attorney General Bonta and FTC Announce Settlement with CRI Genetics over Deceptive Marketing and Business Practices

November 21, 2023
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta, in partnership with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), today announced a settlement with CRI Genetics (CRI), a Southern California company that offers DNA testing and ancestry services to consumers. Today’s settlement, which is subject to court approval, resolves allegations that CRI misled consumers about the purported superiority of its genetic testing services, presented false and misleading consumer testimonials and reviews, and engaged in deceptive billing practices. The settlement requires CRI to pay the state $700,000 in civil penalties and restricts CRI and its founder from engaging in future deceptive conduct. CRI’s customers will also receive greater privacy protections as a result of the settlement. 

“CRI Genetics could have found legitimate ways to market its services. Unfortunately, in its pursuit of growth and profits, the company repeatedly misled consumers. The FTC and my office took notice, we investigated, and we are delivering results today,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “Our settlement not only holds CRI Genetics accountable for its past misconduct — it also aims to ensure that CRI Genetics doesn’t engage in similar misconduct going forward. I want to thank our federal counterparts at the FTC for their continued partnership and commitment to ensuring that all businesses play by the same rules.”

“Today’s action continues the FTC’s crackdown on deceptive reviews, dark patterns, and baseless claims around algorithmic solutions,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We are proud to partner with California on this important matter and will continue to carefully scrutinize claims around biometric information technologies.”

The complaint, which was filed simultaneously with the proposed judgment that details the settlement terms, alleges that CRI engaged in a number of misleading marketing practices, including misrepresenting that its DNA testing services are more accurate and detailed than those of its competitors, and that its ancestry reports show exactly where a consumer’s ancestors are from with over 90% accuracy. Further, CRI created a genetics testing review website deceptively formatted to look independent. Through that website, CRI provided inflated reviews of its genetic testing services. In addition, the company presented false consumer testimonials on its own website and social media platforms like Facebook. Moreover, the complaint alleges CRI manipulated consumers into purchasing unwanted add-on services, forcing consumers to go through a time-consuming and confusing refund process.

Under the terms of the settlement:

  • CRI must not make any misrepresentations about its genetic testing and analysis services.
  • CRI must not employ deceptive tactics in selling its genetic testing and analysis services, in representing endorsements, or in billing practices.
  • CRI must pay $700,000 in civil penalties, paid over four years and secured by commercial property.
  • CRI must disclose its website billing practices and any sharing or usage of genetic data for any purpose other than the services the consumer purchases.
  • CRI must comply with California law, including the California Consumer Privacy Act and the Genetic Information Privacy Act. 

A copy of the complaint and proposed judgment can be found here and here.

Attorney General Bonta Issues Statement Following Conclusion of Historic Antitrust Trial Against Google

November 17, 2023
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Court set closing arguments for May 1-3, 2024, and verdict is expected next year

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a statement following the conclusion of the 10-week bench trial in United States v. Google, an antitrust case regarding Google's monopoly on general internet search services and search-based advertising: 

"Yesterday, the historic antitrust trial against Google came to an end. My office proudly joined the U.S. Department of Justice in seeking to hold accountable the Mountain View-based company, and I continue to feel confident in the strength of our case," said Attorney General Bonta. "With nearly 90% of searches relying on Google, this Google search case is relevant to almost everyone in country. Among the many revelations that came to light at trial was that Google pays other companies billions of dollars each year to ensure that it is the default search engine for iPhones, Android phones, and most third-party web browsers, such as Mozilla’s Firefox. In 2021 alone, Google paid a whopping $26.3 billion to maintain this monopoly. The California Department of Justice has two additional antitrust cases pending against Google, and we will do everything in our power to protect competition in the marketplace."

BACKGROUND 

On December 11, 2020, then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that California would be joining the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Google regarding its monopoly on general internet search services and search-based advertising. This ten-week bench trial in Washington, D.C. began on September 12, 2023 and concluded yesterday. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia set closing arguments for May 1-3, 2024. A verdict is expected next year.  

Further, on July 7, 2021, Attorney General Bonta announced a multistate lawsuit against Google for monopolizing the smartphone application market through its Google Play Store in violation of state and federal antitrust laws. This case has a tentative settlement joined by 53 attorneys general. As requested by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, the settlement will be presented to the court after the jury trial in a related case, Epic v. Google, concludes.

Finally, on January 24, 2023, Attorney General Bonta joined the U.S. Department of Justice and eight original states in filing a lawsuit against Google charging the company with operating an unfair monopoly scheme in markets for advertising technology. Seventeen states have now joined this case, which is pending in the rocket docket in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. 

Attorney General Bonta Expresses Strong Support for Free Tax Filing Program by IRS

November 14, 2023
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Starting next year, millions of eligible taxpayers can submit federal and state taxes at no cost 

OAKLAND  California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in submitting a comment letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen expressing strong support for the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Direct File pilot program. The pilot program will allow eligible taxpayers to file their 2023 federal taxes directly with the IRS for free. Eligible taxpayers in California and three other states — Arizona, Massachusetts, and New York — will also be able to file their 2023 state taxes at no cost using the pilot program. Moreover, eligible taxpayers in nine other states without a state income tax — Alaska, Florida, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming — may be able to take advantage of the pilot program as well. In their letter, the attorneys general write that their “support for an IRS-run alternative is informed both by our belief in consumer choice and our past experience with the tax preparation industry.” 

“Next year, thanks to the Biden Administration, millions of taxpayers across the country will be able to submit, free of charge, their federal and state taxes,” said Attorney General Bonta. "This first-of-its-kind pilot program is good for taxpayers and it is good for our state and federal government. My fellow attorneys general and I want to make clear that we fully support the IRS’s efforts. It is important that we continue to do everything in our power to remove barriers to filing, which too often results in families missing out on critical tax benefits like the Earned Income Tax Credit.”

According to the IRS, the Direct File pilot program will initially be limited to taxpayers with “relatively simple returns.” For example, in terms of allowable income reporting under the pilot program, the IRS lists the following: W-2 wage income, social security and railroad retirement income, unemployment compensation, and interest of $1500 or less. In terms of allowable credits, the IRS lists the following: Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Credit for Other Dependents. More information on the Direct File pilot program can be found here

On May 4, 2022, Attorney General Bonta announced, as part of a coalition of 51 attorneys general and with the Los Angeles City Attorney and Santa Clara County Counsel, a $141 million settlement against Intuit. The settlement, which is referenced in the comment letter, resolved allegations that the California-based company deceptively advertised its “free” online TurboTax products. Although 70% of taxpayers qualify for the IRS’s Free File Program — a separate program that is a public-private partnership operated by the IRS, Intuit, and others — less than 3% of taxpayers used it to file their returns in 2020. This abysmal rate was due, at least in part, to tricks and tactics used by Intuit to steer taxpayers away from the IRS Free File Program and to its paid commercial products. A year later, on May 4, 2023, Attorney General Bonta announced that consumers who were tricked by TurboTax’s owner Intuit into paying for free tax services would begin receiving checks related to the settlement.

Signed into law by President Joe Biden on August 22, 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 directed the IRS to look into the possibility of creating a free filing option for taxpayers. On May 16, 2023, the IRS submitted a report to Congress explaining that a majority of taxpayers would be interested in using a free IRS-run filing option and that delivering such an option was within the agency’s capabilities.

In submitting the comment letter, Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the comment letter can be found here.

Ahead of Supreme Court Argument, Attorney General Bonta Underscores Support for U.S. Army Veteran Wrongly Denied GI Bill Education Benefits

November 7, 2023
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued the following statement in advance of the U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral argument in Rudisill v. McDonough:

“Tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear more about a veteran, FBI Agent James R. Rudisill, who is fighting to access his full educational benefits under the GI Bill. Mr. Rudisill has more than earned those benefits. He served multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, was injured, and received the Bronze Star,” said Attorney General Bonta. "Earlier this year, I proudly joined a bipartisan coalition of 42 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief in support of Mr. Rudisill and veterans like him. The United States promises educational benefits to veterans and we need to deliver on that promise. I remain hopeful that Mr. Rudisill will ultimately prevail.”

Background:

On August 22, 2023, Attorney General Bonta and 41 other attorneys general filed the amicus brief in support of Mr. Rudisill in the U.S. Supreme Court. In the amicus brief, the attorneys general: 

  • Support Mr. Rudisill’s argument that veterans like him — who served two separate terms of military service that qualify them for both the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill — are entitled to receive education benefits under both of these GI Bill programs. 
  • Explain that states’ veteran citizens rely on federal programs such as the GI Bill to transition successfully back to civilian life, and states in turn rely on the GI Bill and other federal benefits as a complement to the state benefits they provide veterans. Accordingly, the reduced access to GI Bill benefits that would result if the lower court’s decision stands would harm states and their veteran citizens.
  • Argue that the lower court’s refusal to apply the "pro-veteran canon" in interpreting GI Bill statutory provisions was in error and such disregard of the canon would prejudice veterans in accessing other benefits to which they are entitled by law. The "pro-veteran canon" instructs courts to interpret any ambiguity in federal laws concerning veterans benefits in favor of veterans.  

Prior to the August 22, 2023 amicus brief on the merits, Attorney General Bonta joined a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general on April 14, 2023 in filing an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court at the cert stage, asking the Court to review the erroneous lower court decision denying Mr. Rudisill 48 months of educational benefits and instead limiting him to only 36 months of education benefits. On June 26, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted the case. 

Attorney General Bonta Joins Lawsuit Against Agri Stats for Facilitating Meat Processors’ Unlawful Increase of Chicken, Pork, and Turkey Prices

November 6, 2023
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND  California Attorney General Rob Bonta and three other attorneys general today announced joining the U.S. Department of Justice’s (U.S. DOJ) lawsuit against Agri Stats, Inc. (Agri Stats), a company that organizes and manages anticompetitive information exchanges for meat processors across the United States. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, the amended complaint alleges that Agri Stats generates weekly and monthly reports with thousands of competitively sensitive data points for subscribing broiler chicken, pork, and turkey meat processors. Agri Stats’ reports, according to the amended complaint, are used by the meat processors to engage in a coordinated effort to increase prices and reduce output, violating federal antitrust law.

“Because of Agri Stats’ anticompetitive business practices, Californians have been paying more for chicken, pork, and turkey meat than they otherwise would have. Agriculture markets are a lifeblood of the California economy and the cost of putting dinner on the table matters to every family in this state,” said Attorney General Bonta. “In a fair and competitive economy, meat processors should be vigorously competing with one another — not effectively colluding behind closed doors. I look forward to continuing to work with the U.S. Department of Justice and our sister states to ensure that Agri Stats is held accountable.”

U.S. DOJ filed its original complaint against Agri Stats on September 28, 2023. With today’s amended complaint, the attorneys general are joining U.S. DOJ's effort to end Agri Stats’ anticompetitive conduct. Together, the attorneys general and U.S. DOJ allege that Agri Stats violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act. Participating meat processors have accounted for more than 90% of broiler chicken sales, 80% of pork sales and 90% of turkey sales in the United States.

In the amended complaint, the attorneys general underscore that:

  • Agri Stats’ information-sharing scheme hurts competition. Specifically, as part of Agri Stats’ “give to get” policy, subscribing meat processors share information about all aspects of their businesses with Agri Stats, including current costs, output, and prices. In exchange, Agri Stats audits and converts that information to common metrics that it distributes to subscribing meat processors in the form of weekly and monthly reports. Those reports enable meat processors to increase prices on items priced below their competitors with greater confidence that they will not lose sales to lower priced rivals. Meat processors pay Agri Stats millions of dollars for the reports.
  • Agri Stats also goes a step further and tells subscribing meat processors how to use the weekly and monthly reports to weaken competition. Indeed, executives at some of the country’s largest meat processors testified that they could not recall any examples in which their companies used Agri Stats information to lower their sales prices to gain market share.
  • Agri Stats refuses to sell the weekly and monthly reports to meat purchasers, farmers, workers, or consumers, thereby strengthening the advantage that subscribing meat processors gain by sharing information only with one another.

In filing today’s amended complaint, Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Minnesota, North Carolina, and Tennessee. 

A copy of the amended complaint is available here.

Attorney General Bonta Issues Statement on First Day of Trial in Lawsuit Challenging Proposed Merger of JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines

October 31, 2023
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a statement on the first day of trial in the federal lawsuit challenging JetBlue Airways' proposed $3.8 billion acquisition of Spirit Airlines. Led by the U.S. Department of Justice (U.S. DOJ), the suit before the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts alleges that the proposed merger violates the Clayton Act because it may substantially lessen competition. Attorney General Bonta announced joining U.S. DOJ's lawsuit on March 31, 2023. 

“The proposed JetBlue-Spirit merger is a bad deal for consumers. If it goes through, tens of millions of travelers across the country — including Californians, particularly on the Los Angeles to Miami route — will face higher fares and fewer options,” said Attorney General Bonta. "Consolidation in the airline industry is a serious concern of mine and I couldn't be prouder that my office, alongside the U.S. Department of Justice and six other attorneys general, is in court today fighting for a fair and competitive economy." 

The attorneys general of California, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina have partnered with U.S. DOJ to challenge the proposed merger of JetBlue and Spirit. 

This lawsuit is the second antitrust lawsuit filed against JetBlue in recent years. On September 21, 2021, Attorney General Bonta joined U.S. DOJ and six other attorneys general in filing a lawsuit against JetBlue and American Airlines challenging an anticompetitive joint venture between the companies known as the Northeast Alliance. On July 28, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts issued a final permanent injunction that officially ended the Northeast Alliance. JetBlue has abandoned the agreement completely. American Airlines has appealed the decision and the California Department of Justice will be prosecuting that appeal with U.S. DOJ.

Attorney General Bonta’s Sponsored Bill to Ban Hidden Fees in California Signed into Law

October 7, 2023
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a statement in response to Senate Bill 478 (SB 478), a bill that he co-sponsored with the California Low-Income Consumer Coalition, being signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. Coauthored by Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) and Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), the legislation will prohibit hidden fees (also called ‘junk fees’) in California beginning on July 1, 2024. Hidden fees are fees in which a seller uses an artificially low headline price to attract a customer and usually either discloses additional required fees in smaller print, or reveals additional unavoidable charges later in the buying process.

“Today, California is eliminating hidden fees,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “These deceptive fees prevent us from knowing how much we will be charged at the outset. They are bad for consumers and bad for competition. They cost Americans tens of billions of dollars each year. They hit families who are just trying to make ends meet the hardest. And, because a growing list of websites, apps, and brick-and-mortar businesses are using them, they penalize companies that are upfront and transparent with their prices. With the signing of SB 478, California now has the most effective piece of legislation in the nation to tackle this problem. The price Californians see will be the price they pay. I am deeply grateful to Senators Dodd and Skinner, the authors of SB 478, for their commitment to protecting consumers.”

“With the governor’s signing of this historic bill, we can finally take aim at dishonest junk fees that are tacked onto seemingly everything – from online concert tickets to hotel reservations,” said Senator Bill Dodd. “Now we can put the consumer first and create a level playing field for those businesses that advertise the real price, up front. I appreciate everyone who worked to end these dishonest charges that boost corporate profits at the expense of those who can least afford it.”

“California sent a clear message today: The days of bait-and-switch pricing practices are over,” said Senator Nancy Skinner. “With Gov. Newsom’s signing of SB 478, Californians will know up front how much they’re being asked to pay, and no longer be surprised by hidden junk fees when buying a concert or sports ticket or booking hotel rooms for their family vacation.” 

After announcing that he was sponsoring SB 478 in February 2023, Attorney General Bonta urged the California Legislature to approve the legislation in March 2023, heeding the call from the Biden-Harris Administration and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for states to better address the nationwide concern of hidden fees. In May 2023, he held a press conference in San Diego to highlight the bill’s importance. 

Deceptive price advertising is a significant problem facing consumers that appears to be proliferating in more and more sectors of the economy. Hidden required fees are now charged for a variety of goods and services, such as lodging, tickets for live events, and restaurants and food delivery. These fees, when mandatory, are a deceptive way of hiding the true price of a good or service. 

The text of the legislation is available here

Attorney General Bonta Issues Statement in Support of CFPB Following Oral Argument in U.S. Supreme Court

October 3, 2023
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today released the following statement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral argument in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) v. Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA):

“There are many important cases before the U.S. Supreme Court this term. One of those cases threatens the very existence of the CFPB, and the justices heard oral argument on it this morning. From going after predatory lenders to addressing misconduct in the financial markets, the CFPB has been a tremendously important partner to the states in our work to protect Californians and consumers all across the country. It is no understatement to say that the stakes are enormous." 

Background:

On May 16, 2023, Attorney General Bonta announced joining a coalition of 24 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the CFPB. In their amicus brief, the attorneys general support the CFPB’s contention that the agency’s funding structure is constitutional and argue that the court should not invalidate the CFPB’s past and ongoing regulatory and enforcement actions even if it determines that the agency’s current funding structure is not constitutional.

Attorney General Bonta Issues Statement Supporting FTC’s Lawsuit Against Amazon

September 26, 2023
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued the following statement in support of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) federal lawsuit against Amazon, which follows the suit he brought in state court on behalf of Californians over a year ago:

“The Biden-Harris Administration has taken numerous actions to protect competition in the marketplace and lower costs for consumers. Today’s lawsuit by the FTC and 17 states against Amazon is a continuation of those important efforts. I welcome the FTC and sister states to this fight against Amazon. Misuse of monopoly power on the backs of consumers and workers deserves no place in our economy.” 

Background on Attorney General Bonta’s Amazon Lawsuit:

  • On September 14, 2022, Attorney General Bonta announced filing a lawsuit against Amazon in the Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco. The complaint alleges that Amazon violated California’s Unfair Competition Law and Cartwright Act by requiring merchants to enter into agreements that severely penalize them if their products are offered for a lower price off-Amazon.
  • On March 30, 2023, Attorney General Bonta secured a favorable court ruling, which blocked Amazon's request that California's lawsuit against the company be dismissed.
  • On April 14, 2023, Attorney General Bonta announced that the Superior Court decided to unredact portions of California's complaint, revealing additional evidence that Amazon is blocking price competition in violation of state antitrust laws.
  • Trial in California’s case is currently set for 2026.