back to article Let arbitrator decide on auto-enrolling membership lawsuit

Springer of unwelcome family tree surprises and favorite of investigative genealogy hunting uncles everywhere, has tried to invoke an arbitration clause to fight off a 77-page false advertising lawsuit accusing it of violating California auto-renewal laws. Among other things, the would-be class-action lawsuit …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And let them...

    have no descendants.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: And let them...

      Or dsp as they say in genealogy.

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    AFAICR from contracting in the UK an invalid term could invalidate the entire contract, at least in some circumstances. I don't know if that's the case in the US but if it is then it might knock out the arbitration clause as well.

    Bought out by private equity? Worrying news for genealogists.

    1. RM Myers

      US law

      I'm not a lawyer, and my contract law classes were a long time ago, but it depends. Sometimes the court will just interpret the contract in a way to make the invalid clause valid. For example, if a parking garage says that they assume no liability for vandalism and/or thefts from your car, then in most circumstances the court will just ignore that clause if there was obvious neglect (there is an implied contract, even if if it is not fully written and signed, and generally speaking people can not sign away certain rights), In other cases, particularly in a situation where one party is obviously in an inferior situation (big corporation in dominate market position versus individual consumer, for example), the court may decide that the terms are so onerous that the contract is null and void. Also, if the contract term is contrary to law or against the common good (sorry, I forget the legal term), this may also cause the court to throw out the whole contract.

      Again, I'm not a lawyer and the law does change. Also, different states may have different tweaks, and different courts may interpret differently. Contract law is very complicated, and I haven't had a job negotiating and writing contracts for over 40 years. Even then, we always had a lawyer review every contract.

    2. Jim Mitchell

      Contracts here tend to have clauses saying that it one clause is invalidated, all the others are still valid. This is a "severability clause":

      1. Psmo

        But... if the contract is invalid, how can a severability clause on that same contract be held as valid?

        Like a clause on an unenforceable contract saying "This contract is enforceable."

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          In a sense it's a race condition but think the logic, if the particular legal system accepts it, is that if the clause is severed it's as if it was never there and if it was never there then it couldn't have invalidated the rest of the contract.

          In practice I suppose it would depend on how the contract could function without it; for instance the contract might consist solely of the invalid clause and the severability clause.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Contracts here tend to have clauses saying that it one clause is invalidated, all the others are still valid. "

        Legalese bullshit at least here in North. Every clause in contract *must* be valid in order to contract be valid.

        US system is different, but if that flies there, that would be odd.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Yes, it was severability clauses I had in mind as affecting "circumstances". I've never signed up for Ancestry - the local library has a sub - so I don't know if their terms include one.

    3. chivo243 Silver badge

      That point stood out to me too,

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > Bought out by private equity? Worrying news for genealogists.

      I found by accident that a member of my family had put a load of my personal details into this data collectors' heaven. I can't do a thing about it. Of course private equity probably thought $4.7billion was cheap.

    5. chivo243 Silver badge

      just saw this, maybe more info as to why?

  3. MiguelC Silver badge

    News at 11: there are lots of scumbags on the interwebs

    Just an example of one of those subscription scams a close friend fell for:

    She had to cancel her credit card to stop payments being sent

    They've been going on at it for years and the authorities don't seem able to stop them - although they've been reported to the police in 2018 (and probably earlier, they most probably are the one that has complaints from across Europe)

  4. JDPower Bronze badge

    I would happily see every company that auto renews taken to court.

    1. Chris G

      There literally should be a law against auto-renewal.

      I always check for it in any paid for service, a lot of insurance companies play that game in Spain.

      If you want to change companies you need to send a dead tree letter at least 2 weeks before the renewal date, it has to be worded in a particular way (and they have to receive and read it in time).

      If they have taken the money out already if you do it soon enough you can get your Spanish bank to rescind the payment and block further demands, that often leads to letters from a collection agency.

      My wife has had the problem twice with different companies.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I like auto-renewal **when I specifically choose it**. Netflix is a good example - no, don't cancel my account every month, just auto-bill me. But it's something I need to proactively choose (full opt-in, preferably on its own page/form) rather than be the default.

    2. jelabarre59

      I generally presume anything that asks for my CC information, and has the potential of being auto-renewed, WILL auto-renew. I automatically operate on the presumption that any and all businesses are out to screw me over, and if they haven't yet, they will eventually.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Using is highly addictive

    And they do act like pushers sometimes.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Using is highly addictive

      There are alternatives. for one and, for civil registration in England & Wales, is another.

      1. Ruisert

        Re: Using is highly addictive

        Familysearch is great - free and they block almost all personal details of living persons in the DB.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Blackstone is a professional criminal. No more, no less.

    Therefore it's irrelevant what they say, they are breaking the law. At least in California.

  7. Kev99 Silver badge

    Funny. When I signed up with Ancestry years ago they very plainly explained my membership would automatically renew. I must have a different version.

    1. Dvon of Edzore

      Found the astroturfer.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Found the what? Oh, apparently you probably mean someone sent in to make statements solely to support the villains of the piece despite the fact that everybody knows they are lying.

        Just because you are too lazy to read and understand the terms and conditions does not mean they should be declared invalid. If it takes you too long to read the terms and conditions and you are not prepared to accept the consequences , don't buy the product. It is actually quite a simple concept to grasp.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'm pretty sure the example given in the article - and the court papers - states that quite clearly too.

      But obviously expecting people with the attention span of a dead goldfish to remember what they agreed to a year ago is far too onerous. Besides, if it wasn't for crap like this, what would all those lawyers do? There aren't enough real jobs for them to do.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Saddest Little Know Point Regarding

    The saddest part about the whole thing is 99% of the data that it "helps" you search is in the public domain, mostly government census, burial and other public records which companies like have heavily lobbied to keep those same public agencies from publishing that data in a consumer friendly way. These same companies then request and get on the cheap copies of the entire databases. All the more grating is that by law, in the US most records kept by government agencies is supposed to be accessible to the public.

    1. Hollerithevo

      Re: Saddest Little Know Point Regarding

      This seems to be a habit. Didn't a tax-returns company (TurboTax?? IIRC) recently manage to suppress a really good online tool developed by the Federal government that would help people submit their own taxes?

  9. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Witness for the Defence

    Call Mother Nature.

    As she auto-enrolled each and every one of us as members of the Human Race, without our consent. So, is just following her example

    1. Ruisert

      Re: Witness for the Defence

      Don't recall ever being billed by Mother Nature...

      1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

        Re: Witness for the Defence

        Mother Natures toll isn't a financial one.

  10. MarkCX

    Yes, but notwithstanding the beliefs of certain religions, our membership of the human race doesn’t auto-renew.

    1. Hollerithevo

      Or at least not on the earthly plain.

  11. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    the problem

    the problem is, you sign up for you've signed up for, I think it's clear it charges until you cancel. The DNA kit is sold off the shelf in a store, then it's mailed in, you go to a site to get the results that THEN pump the user for credit card info -- many assume it's to tack on like $5 for results and don't realize it's to charge for until the end of time.

  12. Twilight

    Binding arbitration clauses should be illegal. At least auto-renewal occasionally has a valid use (Netflix or the like).

    Which is more likely to give you a fair shake? A court or an arbitrator that is wholly paid by the company (eg your opponent)?

    Iirc, the "no court" clause has never been tested but it would likely be a very expensive lawsuit as any company fighting it would likely get lots of help from all the other corporations that just love binding arbitration agreements.

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