I have a particular product in mind, but more generally if a company sells a product that people are given to expect will perform a certain function (eliminate mosquitoes, for example), is there any action that can be taken when the product is, by design, incapable of performing the expected function (i.e. "Mosquito Eradicator 9000" is just water).

Companies tend to be very careful to make sufficiently vague claims that are TECHNICALLY true, but also induce consumers to expect something that is not true. But surely, there's a feature of modern legal systems that can cut through this kind of double-speak, right? I'm in the US, but I'm thinking this is probably similarly true elsewhere.

  • 1
    Are you asking for legal advice because you want to sell a product that doesn't work? Or are you asking about consumer protection laws to protect people from such products? May 29 '20 at 15:06
  • LOL!! Well it seems like I shouldn't say 'yes' to the first question... But no, I'm asking about the second thing. I'm asking about laws to protect people from such products. More specifically, it's clear that there are laws against making false claims, but what about claims that are TECHNICALLY true? Also, I'm aware of laws against selling harmful products, but what if the only harm is that I bought a thing that could never do what I expected it to do?
    – Matt
    May 29 '20 at 15:11
  • There are many existing questions and answers: law.stackexchange.com/search?q=false+advertising May 29 '20 at 15:21
  • Thanks! I took a look at these, but none of them seem to address specifically the issue of "technically true, but conveniently misunderstood." Maybe they do, and the language is more specific than I understand.
    – Matt
    May 29 '20 at 15:38

Is it misleading or deceptive?

Most prohibitions of this nature don’t ask whether the statement is true or false, they ask whether it is misleading or deceptive in context. Things that are 100% factually accurate can still be misleading or deceptive.

Real case study: An internet company offered ‘unlimited’ download plans for users who signed up to their services. However, the plans were subject to major limitations including speed reductions when a certain amount of data was downloaded. The court found that the use of the term ‘unlimited’ in relation to plans that were subject to major limitations that were not disclosed was misleading and deceptive.  

Case law: Full Federal Court - [2012] FCAFC 20

Media release: Full Federal Court orders internet company to pay $3.6 million penalty

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