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Toyota Claims Woman "Opted In" To Faux Email Stalking 667

Posted by timothy
from the give-marketing-new-prescriptions dept.
An anonymous reader writes "ABC News is reporting that a California woman is suing Toyota for $10 million for sending her email that appeared to be from a criminal stalker. The woman claims the emails terrified her to the point that she suffered sleeplessness, poor work performance, etc. Toyota says the ruse was part of a marketing campaign for the Toyota Matrix. A Toyota spokesman says they are not liable for the woman's distress, because 'The person who made this claim specifically opted in, granting her permission to receive campaign emails and other communications from Toyota.'"
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Toyota Claims Woman "Opted In" To Faux Email Stalking

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  • Re:Yep (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 15, 2009 @04:41PM (#29762041)
    On the other hand, Toyota did a really really weird thing.
  • Re:Yep (Score:2, Informative)

    by Wizel603 (1367631) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @04:55PM (#29762255)

    how do you punish a company except by a fiscal penalty?

    you get an article put up on a major news site that features the company name and alludes that they've been stalking their customers.

  • Re:Yep (Score:4, Informative)

    by jayke (1531583) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @04:58PM (#29762303)
    One solution is to apply the very same punitive penalty, but award the punitive part of it to a fund/charity. In essence, whenever a major company causes somebody harm, that person is eligible to receive whatever amount is considered reasonable depending on the damages. In addition to that, the company is also fined an amount that is relative to its size and financial status, simply as a form of punishment. The latter amount never comes in contact with the victim.

    What this does is ensure that company's are probably punished for causing harm, but removes the incentive to sue for enormous amounts for trivial issues (or not-so-trivial issues that don't justify $X million). This system is relatively common, and it always surprised me that people find it reasonable that the amount of damages awarded should be relative to the offenders ability to pay - Not primarily the crime itself.
  • Re:Yep (Score:1, Informative)

    by rjolley (1118681) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @05:19PM (#29762697)
    If you actually bothered to learn about the McDonalds case you would have found out that the coffee was hot enough to melt her pants to her downstairs. It really was too hot, and she deserved everything she got.
  • Re:Yep (Score:4, Informative)

    by vintagepc (1388833) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @05:21PM (#29762733) Journal

    ...and sued McDonalds because they didnt warn *coffee* was *hot*)

    Everyone misunderstands this. I have a friend in Law school. They analysed this case in class, and it turns out that this is generally misunderstood. The coffee was EXCEPTIONALLY hot, not just hot. McDonalds was keeping the coffee on the burner at a higher temperature so they would have to make new batches less often. This temperature was above what is generally used, and necessary. Hence, the coffee was hotter than it needed to be, and the burns were far more severe than if it had been at the normal temperature (I think this is generally somewhere around 50C).

  • Re:Yep (Score:2, Informative)

    by _Sprocket_ (42527) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @05:34PM (#29762927)

    What is the money amount going to punish? They just calculate it into marketing budget.

    Exactly. And next time they sit in the conference room discussing a new ad campaign, someone will note "let's not do Option B - last time it cost us $10 mil more than we expected. Options A and C will be much cheaper."

    And by the way - the coffee wasn't just hot. It was exceptionally hot; scalding hot. During the court case it was noted that coffee served at home is usually 135 - 140 degrees. McDonald's required it's coffee to be maintained at 185 degrees plus or minus 5 degrees. The victim suffered 3rd degree burns - from coffee. Burns that are unlikely to come from coffee even at 155 degrees. In addition, McDonald's was aware of the safety involved with their policy and had been aware of it for 10 years with over 700 reports of injuries (including other cases of 3rd degree burns). This wasn't a simple case of getting rich with a frivolous lawsuit - it was clear negligence on McDonald's part. Investigations after the verdict showed local area McDonald's serving coffee at a much safer 158 degrees. Clearly the punitive damages worked.

  • by BitZtream (692029) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @05:37PM (#29762951)

    And once again for those of you who are incredible dense ...

    JUST BECAUSE YOU PUT IT IN A CONTRACT AND GET SOMEONE TO SIGN IT DOESN'T MAKE IT LEGALLY BINDING.

    We've been over this, it in fact was one of the factors that lead to the civil war, after which we (the USA) made efforts to make it so a bullshit contract could no longer be considered valid.

    The right to freedom in America should only be given to those who care enough to understand what having and protecting that right means, your right to freedom would most certainly be revoked.

  • Re:Yep (Score:5, Informative)

    by Frequency Domain (601421) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @05:47PM (#29763073)

    And individuals will come and try to sue hoping an easy way to get rich (after hearing about the women who drop hot coffee on herself and sued McDonalds because they didnt warn *coffee* was *hot*)

    Yes, everybody who is capable of ordering coffee knows it's hot. McDonald's coffee was scalding hot, more than 40F higher than the minimum temperature known to produce third degree burns - a 49 cup produced third degree burns over 6% of that woman's body, and lesser burns over another 16% [wikipedia.org]. If you think experiencing that is an easy way to get rich, I have to believe neither you nor anybody you love has ever experienced a serious burn.

  • Re:Yep (Score:5, Informative)

    by bennomatic (691188) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @05:57PM (#29763203) Homepage
    I hate when people refer to the McDonalds case when all they know about it is what they learned on TV. It was a completely reasonable lawsuit, and it was McDonalds' own reckless disregard for safety that caused the award to be so high. To wit:

    79 year old Stella Liebeck suffered third degree burns on her groin and inner thighs while trying to add sugar to her coffee at a McDonalds drive through. Third degree burns are the most serious kind of burn. McDonalds knew it had a problem. There were at least 700 previous cases of scalding coffee incidents at McDonalds before Liebeck's case. McDonalds had settled many claim before but refused Liebeck's request for $20,000 compensation, forcing the case into court. Lawyers found that McDonalds makes its coffee 30-50 degrees hotter than other restaurants, about 190 degrees. Doctors testified that it only takes 2-7 seconds to cause a third degree burn at 190 degrees. McDonalds knew its coffee was exceptionally hot but testified that they had never consulted with burn specialist. The Shriner Burn Institute had previously warned McDonalds not to serve coffee above 130 degrees. And so the jury came back with a decision- $160,000 for compensatory damages. But because McDonalds was guilty of "willful, reckless, malicious or wanton conduct" punitive damages were also applied. The jury set the award at $2.7 million. The judge then reduced the fine to less than half a million. Ms. Liebeck then settled with McDonalds for a sum reported to be much less than a half million dollars. McDonald's coffee is now sold at the same temperature as most other restaurants.

    Source: http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0122-11.htm [commondreams.org]

    Summary: 700 complaints of scalding incidents. Requests from the Shriners burn unit. This was willful disregard for people's health. And the size of the reward? Calculated as the profits from one morning's take from the sales of coffee across the enterprise. I'd say that's a reasonable--if maybe small--slap on the wrist.

    I don't know why people choose to defend corporations over the people they hurt. It's not like McDonalds would cross the street to piss on you if you were on fire; it must be something like the Stockholm Syndrome.

  • Re:Yep (Score:3, Informative)

    by DavidTC (10147) <slas45dxsvadiv.vadiv@NoSpam.neverbox.com> on Thursday October 15, 2009 @06:13PM (#29763371) Homepage

    A part of that break emphasizing: $160,000 for compensatory damages.

    In other words, she had 160,000 dollars worth of medical bills from that coffee. (Well, that figure includes lost wages and stuff.) Which is not that amazing for third degree burns.

    Incidentally, 185-190 degrees is 22-27 degrees lower than the boiling point of water. If you were to put a pot of water on the stove until it started to boil, cut it off, and wait maybe a minute...that's the temperature McDonalds was handing people coffee in in tiny cardboard cups.

    Go ahead, people who say she didn't deserve that. Pour that in your lap. I dare you. (Call 911 before you do that.)

  • Re:Yep (Score:5, Informative)

    by gtbritishskull (1435843) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @06:16PM (#29763403)
    You are so wrong about the McDonalds thing. It is used as a propaganda tool (as you are by spouting it) by corporations who want to get liability limiting legislation passed by painting her as greedy. She just sued for her medical bills (tried to settle for 20k but McDonalds refused). The jury awarded her punitive damages when she won (I think she also got 200k for actual damages). The jury decided to PUNISH McDonalds (which is what punitive damages means) for flagrantly putting people at risk so that their bottom line would benefit. The amount of punitive damages was 2.7mil, which was 2 days worth of McDonald's coffee sales. I hope you are getting paid for being a corporate mouthpiece.
  • Re:Yep (Score:3, Informative)

    by AnotherUsername (966110) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @06:36PM (#29763613)
    Okay, this whole "McDonald's Hot Coffee" thing is not what people think it is.
    1.) The coffee wasn't just hot, it was scalding. The woman got 3rd degree burns, for Christ's sake. The woman had to be hospitalized for eight days and had to undergo skin grafting. She had to also undergo debridement treatments(basically, having dead and damaged tissue removed so that the healthier tissue around it can begin to heal).
    2.) The woman was in the passenger seat and the car wasn't moving.
    3.) The coffee was undrinkable at the temperature it was served at. 180 degrees(the temperature it was served at), will cause 3rd degree burns in 2 - 7 seconds. Basically, drinking the coffee as soon as you get it will cause your throat to almost instantly receive 3rd degree burns.
    4.) McDonalds had settled 700 cases regarding their hot coffee, many instances involved similar 3rd degree burns.
    So, basically, saying that the coffee was hot is a vast understatement. I know people love to point it out as an outlandish lawsuit, but once you know the facts, it is anything but outlandish.
  • Re:Uhh, more info? (Score:3, Informative)

    by gujo-odori (473191) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @07:05PM (#29763891)

    I don't even need to see the emails. I work in the email security industry, and every problem I've seen - without exception - that involved an otherwise legit and respectable company that got in trouble because of email marketing practices was a combination of two things:

    1) A definition of "opt-in" that doesn't come very near to "informed consent" - where informed consent is considered an industry BCP.

    2) Some genius in marketing further gumming up the works by sending something spammy, or just stupid.

    In most cases, condition 1 is also caused by condition 2. There are more than a few marketers who see absolutely nothing wrong with e-pending, or even "list rental" of "guaranteed 100% opt-in lists."

    This doesn't mean she isn't an idiot. At a minimum, she doesn't sound very computer-savvy, but this still needs to be laid squarely at the feet of Toyota and its marketing firm.

    For any of you who may be marketers, let me clue you in. Anyone offering to sell/rent you a list is a spammer and is setting you up to be a spammer. No one on that gave explicit and informed consent to receive marketing email from _your_ company, which means that a large percentage of the people on that list will (quite rightly) consider you to be a spammer if they get mail from you. Also, there is no such thing as a "100% opt-in list" with the exception of a list you built yourself from people who gave explicit and informed consent to receive marketing email from you. Even then, that list will only remain 100% opt-in if you maintain it regularly. That means, at a minimum, frequently removing bouncing addresses and never, ever adding them back later should they start working.

    In line with that last part, never re-test bad addresses in the future to see if they work. If they do work, it's a virtual certainty that the address has changed hands. If you then send mail there, it's spam.

    And finally, beware of "partner lists" whether receiving or producing them. When people give consent, they are usually giving consent to receive mail from your firm only, not your partners (think hard about informed consent). If a partner business gives you a list of its contacts, the same thing applies. No one on that list gave informed consent to get mail from *you* - and no, a couple pages of lawyer-talk in a small font does not count as informed consent, even it explicitly states that you'll write their email address on the bathroom wall.

    Following these common-sense best practices will keep marketers from running afoul of people like me, who write spam filters for a living.

    Disclaimer: all opinions expressed herein are solely mine, and not those of my employer.

  • Re:Yep (Score:3, Informative)

    by 1729 (581437) <slashdot1729@gma ... minus herbivore> on Thursday October 15, 2009 @07:15PM (#29764011)

    What is the money amount going to punish? They just calculate it into marketing budget.

    Exactly. And next time they sit in the conference room discussing a new ad campaign, someone will note "let's not do Option B - last time it cost us $10 mil more than we expected. Options A and C will be much cheaper."

    And by the way - the coffee wasn't just hot. It was exceptionally hot; scalding hot. During the court case it was noted that coffee served at home is usually 135 - 140 degrees. McDonald's required it's coffee to be maintained at 185 degrees plus or minus 5 degrees.

    That's the proper temperature for hot coffee! Check this out:

    http://www.ncausa.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=71 [ncausa.org]

    The victim suffered 3rd degree burns - from coffee. Burns that are unlikely to come from coffee even at 155 degrees. In addition, McDonald's was aware of the safety involved with their policy and had been aware of it for 10 years with over 700 reports of injuries (including other cases of 3rd degree burns). This wasn't a simple case of getting rich with a frivolous lawsuit - it was clear negligence on McDonald's part. Investigations after the verdict showed local area McDonald's serving coffee at a much safer 158 degrees. Clearly the punitive damages worked.

    Yeah, great, now it's harder to get a good cup of hot coffee served AT THE PROPER TEMPERATURE.

  • Re:Yep (Score:4, Informative)

    by dissy (172727) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @07:26PM (#29764135)

    There was no issues in the court case about labels.

    She had boiling coffee handed to her in a cup with no lid. People want their coffee hot, not beyond boiling.

    She asked for reembursement for her medical bills, something like $160k, with zero dollars left over for her to keep (IE the money was to go straight from mcdonalds to the hospital billing department, not through her hands)

    McDonalds was being a dick about everything, and as punishment the JUDGE said they now must pay millions to her.
    I'm sure she wasn't going to complain (I wouldn't) but its not like she ASKED for millions, let alone demanded or sued for it.

    That poor lady keeps getting blamed for doing things she never once did... a judge did.

    If you have an issue with a judge hearing the lady ask for medical bill payment, and the judge said "Oh no, you get your medical bills, plus a few million in profits from it", that is the judges fault. Go blame him.

  • Re:Yep (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 15, 2009 @07:54PM (#29764355)

    You're citing commondreams.org? Dude, put the bong down.

    Go check the Wikipedia cite for this: There was a similar suit against Bunn-O-Matic, in which the judge noted that
    the National Coffee Association's standards for brewing coffee have it brewed between 195 and 205 and held at 180-185.

    The gaijin method for making tea involves heating the water to 212 degrees.

    190 degrees may be too hot, but by 5-10 degrees, not 60!

  • by rlh100 (695725) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @09:23PM (#29764909) Homepage

    You can sent them email at:
            http://toyota.custhelp.com/cgi-bin/toyota.cfg/php/enduser/ask_intercept.php [custhelp.com]

    You might want to tell them that you are opting out of any of their marketing campaigns.

    What were they thinking?

    RLH

  • Re:Yep (Score:4, Informative)

    by fredklein (532096) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @09:24PM (#29764919)

    Maybe McDonalds wouldn't need warning signs if they didn't serve coffee at temperatures that can cause third-degree burns after 2-7 seconds of exposure.
    . ::sigh::

    Coffee is supposed to be served in the range of 185 degrees! The National Coffee Association recommends coffee be brewed at "between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal extraction" and drunk "immediately". If not drunk immediately, it should be "maintained at 180-185 degrees Fahrenheit."

    If you don't believe the national Coffee Association (I mean, what do they know about coffee, Right?) , How about Bunn? Their website (http://www.bunn.com/retail/bunn_difference.html) says "The patented ready-to-brew reservoir keeps water at the ideal brewing temperature of approximately 200." and another page (http://www.bunn.com/retail/dos_donts.html) mentions "water at 200 Fahrenheit (the ideal temperature)" and further down the page that say "Don't" "Re-heat for serving any coffee with a temperature below 175 F ", which means it has to be above that temperature to be served.

    Still not convinced? How about a judge?

    Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote a unanimous 7th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion affirming dismissal of a similar lawsuit against coffeemaker manufacturer Bunn-O-Matic. The opinion noted that hot coffee (179 F (82 C) in this case) is not “unreasonably dangerous.”

            "The smell (and therefore the taste) of coffee depends heavily on the oils containing aromatic compounds that are dissolved out of the beans during the brewing process. Brewing temperature should be close to 200 F [93 C] to dissolve them effectively, but without causing the premature breakdown of these delicate molecules. Coffee smells and tastes best when these aromatic compounds evaporate from the surface of the coffee as it is being drunk. Compounds vital to flavor have boiling points in the range of 150–160 F [66–71 C], and the beverage therefore tastes best when it is this hot and the aromatics vaporize as it is being drunk. For coffee to be 150 F when imbibed, it must be hotter in the pot. Pouring a liquid increases its surface area and cools it; more heat is lost by contact with the cooler container; if the consumer adds cream and sugar (plus a metal spoon to stir them) the liquid's temperature falls again. If the consumer carries the container out for later consumption, the beverage cools still further."

    Maybe McDonalds wouldn't need warning signs if they had simply helped the 79-year-old victim with her $11,000 in medical expenses, or accepted her later settlement offers of $90,000 and $300,000.

    Why should they help her? The spill (and therefore the injury the spill caused) was her fault, not theirs.

    Oh, and she asked for $20,000 to cover her $11,000 of medical bills. Hmmm.

    Maybe Mcdonalds wouldn't need warning signs if documents obtained from Mcdonalds didn't establish that more than 700 people were burned to various degrees by Mcdonalds coffee between 1982 - 1992.

    The plaintiffs were apparently able to document 700 cases of burns from McDonald's coffee over 10 years, or 70 burns per year. But that doesn't take into account how many cups are sold without incident. A McDonald's consultant pointed out the 700 cases in 10 years represents just 1 injury per 24 million cups sold! For every injury, no matter how severe, 23,999,999 people managed to drink their coffee without any injury whatever.

    Please explain how one burn per 24,000,000 cups is 'unreasonable dangerous'.

    Maybe you need to come up with a better example of a lack of "common sense" in US courts

    'Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants' does fine, thank you.

  • Re:The Game (Score:0, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 15, 2009 @09:48PM (#29765081)

    Shit. I just lost, asshole.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 15, 2009 @09:59PM (#29765127)

    woooosh......

  • by martyros (588782) on Friday October 16, 2009 @01:28AM (#29766009)

    Unless they got really creative with the opt-in...

    That's exactly what happened. She didn't purposely sign up to be stalked. One of her friends signed her up. To get her to "opt-in", she was sent an online quiz, and as part of the quiz she "signed" an EULA opting in to the "marketing campaign".

    Her lawyer's point is that she didn't realize she was opting into being stalked; she thought she was opting in to take a stupid online quiz. You can't pretend that signing the thing is "informed consent", when the whole point of the quiz was to hide the fact that you were about to sign up for this "marketing campaign".

    I think this comment [slashdot.org] demonstrates the principle pretty well.

  • Re:Yep (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 16, 2009 @02:36AM (#29766209)

    The woman in the famous coffee case wasn't just burned. Her vagina was scalded off. Gone. She had to have several skin grafts over several years before she could control her urination.

    Also, as you state, the coffee should be hot enough in the pot so that it cools down to about 140 when poured. The problem with McDonalds coffee at that particular location was that it was still brewing temperature after being poured.

    And, just for the record, you're quoting a judge from a different case, one that was reviewed by the judge who ruled in the McDonalds case and found to be irrelevant.

    It's like you're doing freelance astroturfing for McDonalds or something.

  • by abigsmurf (919188) on Friday October 16, 2009 @04:45AM (#29766599)
    I've actually found out details of what the campaign involved.

    It is designed as a prank to pull on someone else. What happens is you gave the email of someone you want to prank and it sent them a fake personality where they'd fill out their personal details and give consent to receive further emails.

    You were then sent a schedule (or one was presented before you agreed to prank them) of exactly what they would receive.

    This is not nearly as sinister as the money grabbing woman filing the lawsuit made out to be. Not only does it require someone you know to initially set up the prank, it describes the nature of the prank to whoever sets it up and, through the fake survey, it ensures that you have to actively take action for it to start and you are unlikely to be targetted by strangers.

    If you sue anyone, sue the friend who not only started the prank, but didn't tell you about it when you were apparently being so traumatised.
  • by Aceticon (140883) on Friday October 16, 2009 @04:59AM (#29766641)

    I don't understand North American business and advertising in general.

    When you want nothing to do with them, they call you during dinner with things you don't want and don't need. When you do need them, because something is wrong with their product, they let you talk to machines until you get fed up.

    In the first case they don't have your money yet.

    In the second case they already have your money.

    This sudden transition from star to looser for the customer happens less frequently in most places in Western Europe because stronger consumer laws mean that as a consumer you can much more easily claw back your money without spending a penny in lawyers.

  • Re:Yep (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 16, 2009 @05:35AM (#29766789)

    A temperature which apparently the vast majority of McD coffee drinkers apparently liked or did not mind.

    Considering that McDonalds' own witness explained that it was to stop customers from using the refill option, I'm not sure "liked it or did not mind" is descriptive.

    If a customer doesn't even want an extra they already paid for, you're doing something wrong.

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