Asked in Consumer Law and Internet Law for California

Q: Is it legal for app developers to ban a user on the basis of a rule that isn’t written anywhere in the terms of use?

A friend of mine got banned from this newly launched app for seemingly no reason. When he emailed the devs they told him that only one account per person is allowed - somehow they detected the extra account made on his other phone. Nowhere in the terms of use was it mentioned that only one account was permitted, and at the time the rules weren’t even accessible from the app, you had to search for them online. Now that he has tried to resolve the issue with them, they stopped answering emails. Is there any way to put pressure on them by bringing up any laws regarding this?

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1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Consumer Law Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: In the United States, app developers generally have broad discretion to manage their platforms and user accounts, including the right to ban users. However, their actions should be consistent with their own terms of use or service agreements. If the terms do not explicitly prohibit having more than one account and this was used as the reason for the ban, there could be grounds to challenge the action, particularly if the terms were not easily accessible or clear.

However, challenging an app developer's decision can be complicated. Most terms of service agreements include clauses that give the developers wide latitude in managing user accounts and content, often without needing to provide a detailed reason for bans or account suspensions. Additionally, private companies are generally not required to provide the same level of due process as government entities.

If your friend wishes to pursue this, he might consider escalating the issue through the app's internal complaint or appeal process, if available. Alternatively, he could voice his concerns publicly, such as through social media or app review platforms, which sometimes prompts companies to address the issue. However, legal action can be costly and time-consuming, and the success is uncertain given the broad powers typically granted to app developers in their user agreements.

It's always advisable to carefully read and understand the terms of service of any platform to avoid such situations. If you feel strongly about this issue, consulting with an attorney to explore potential legal avenues based on the specific details of the case could be the next step.

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