Apple is currently being sued by Chinese writers, 13 people who are suing a number of mobile companies – including Apple – and a guy from Brooklyn who is pissed that Apple’s voice recognition software Siri can’t understand his accent. Because that’s what happens when you are the richest country on earth – people sue you.
Frank M. Fazio filed a complaint in the state of California claiming that the Siri feature on his new iPhone 4S did not perform as advertised. Among the issues cited in his formal complaint:
Plaintiff asked Siri for directions to a certain place, or to locate a store, Siri either did not understand what Plaintiff was asking, or, after a very long wait time, responded with the wrong answer. In addition to the fact that Siri does not perform as advertised, recent reports have shown that continuous Siri usage dramatically increases an iPhone 4S users’ monthly data usage, and can easily push users over their data plan.
Before I dismissed Fazio’s lawsuit as a money grab, I wanted an informed opinion from someone who has experience with this sort of thing: a lawyer.
I spoke with Joshua King, a Seattle-based lawyer who is the General Counsel and Vice President of Business Development at Avvo, a four-year-old startup that helps people find doctors, dentists, and lawyers based on ratings.
Q: Why would Frank Fazio want to sue Apple?
Joshua: This lawsuit was filed under the California Unfair Competition Law which means that Fazio is claiming that there is negligent misrepresentation of Siri by the Apple company. These lawsuits are fairly typical.
Q: Do you think that Fazio has a case here?
Joshua: I don’t think that this complaint will move forward. Here’s why: when products are advertised, it’s a given that they are being advertised in their best possible light. We all know that the real experience will be slightly different. Apple advertised Siri as being somewhat magical, even though we know that in real life it’s not like that. In my opinion, there is nothing deceptive with the Siri advertisement.
Q: Apple has a lot of money to fight this. What about the small guys – the startups who are launching and charging for cutting edge technology that may still have some bugs?
Joshua: People should be aware of the risk of a lawsuit, but that shouldn’t stop them from launching an innovative product. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that encourages lawsuits like these to go forward. But startups really have the least amount of risk. Apple is an easy target because of the size of their business. The have cash to pay out. Startups don’t. Most likely, if you sell a web-based product with beta features, users know that they may encounter some bugs. Theoretically, these startups could still get sued, but it’s not likely.
Q: Have you ever been involved with a lawsuit like this?
Joshua: Actually, yeah. We had a lawsuit against us at Avvo right after we launched. We were a directory of lawyers, and we were sued for defamation because someone thought that their rating misrepresented their work. It turned out to be good for us in the beginning, because we got a lot of press that we normally would not get. I would tell startups that if you are entering a vertical that you know may be contentious, it’s better to be prepared.
After speaking with Joshua, I doubt that this lawsuit will move forward. Do you have an iPhone 4s? If so, what has your experience been with Siri?