Several users with free subscriptions to Photobucket, an image hosting website, report being presented with various ultimatums over email and on the website to get them to subscribe to a paid version of the service.
In one such ultimatum, Photobucket appears to threaten to delete the user’s photos if the user does not purchase the premium subscription. In another ultimatum, a solid red screen informs the user that “it’s time to make a decision, upgrade today or delete your account.” However, if users navigate away from the page and then re-enter the URL, they can bypass this screen and use their accounts as normal.
Customers report feeling unsure about whether the photos that they have with the service will remain accessible and feeling pressured to pay Photobucket’s fee to avoid losing their photos.
Customers may have claims for false advertising and fraud, and consumer protection agencies and advocates may be interested in this case as an example of unfair or deceptive business practices.
Photobucket’s terms of service include a mandatory binding arbitration provision, but no class action waiver.
Yelp faced a similar lawsuit in 2014 that was eventually dismissed alleging extortion stemming from Yelp’s practices of manipulating businesses’ reviews unless they pay a fee. The 9th Circuit ended up dismissing the claim on a factual basis, saying nothing adverse about the viability of the corporate extortion theory.