California Court: Online Merchants Can Demand Personal Info To Verify Credit Card Purchases

While a California consumer protection law dating back 22 years is all good when it comes to brick-and-mortar stores, the state’s Supreme Court ruled today that online merchants can collect personal information from buyers using credit cards. Companies like Apple and Ticketmaster had argued that they need data like home addresses and phone numbers to verify credit card purchases and prevent fraud, and the court agreed in a 4-3 decision.

The law in question is called the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act, which was set up to prevent businesses from encroaching on consumer privacy. But if lawmakers want those protections for online credit card purchases, they’ll need to change the law.

Writing for the majority, Justice Goodwin Liu ruled that consumers can be required to cough up certain info when say, buying a downloadable product from Apple like an iTunes song, reports the Mercury News.

“While it is clear the Legislature enacted the Credit Card Act to protect consumer privacy, it is also clear that the Legislature did not intend to achieve privacy protection without regard to exposing consumers and retailers to undue risk of fraud,” Liu wrote. If lawmakers want to change that, they “may wish to revisit the issue of consumer privacy and fraud prevention in online credit card transactions.”

The three dissenting justices seemed to side with consumer privacy advocates, who say that online merchants are playing fast and loose with consumers’ personal info. Lawyers for consumers said the online businesses can protect against fraud without demanding customer’s provide private details.

“The majority’s decision is a major win for (merchants), but a major loss for consumers, who in their online activities already face an ever-increasing encroachment upon their privacy,” Justice Joyce Kennard wrote in dissent.

Lawyers had filed class action suits in California against Apple, eHarmony and Ticketmaster to make those businesses abide by the same rules as physical retailers, but those cases will now have to stop in light of the court’s decision.

California Supreme Court makes it easier for Apple, online businesses to collect personal data [Mercury News]