Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Hulu Can't Shake Privacy Suit

An evil plot to destroy the world. Enjoy! (Log...
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United States Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler last week denied a summary judgment motion by Hulu, LLC, to dismiss a putative class action invasion of privacy suit brought by users of the on-demand streaming video Web site, according to a Reuters wire service article.

The case, In re Hulu Privacy Litigation (Case No. 11-03764I), brought in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that Hulu violated the Video Privacy Protection Act ("VPPA") [Pub. L. 100-618] when it purportedly allowed access to users' viewing history to Facebook, Inc. and comScore, Inc. without the users' permission.

Hulu's unsuccessful motion to scuttle the suit argued the plaintiffs were not aggrieved persons under the VPPA because they hadn't sustained actual damages. Additionally, Hulu contended certifying plaintiffs for a class action was untenable because a substantial number of its users employ fake identities.

Judge Beeler, however, without ruling on the merits of the suit, said VPPA merely "requires only injury in the form of a wrongful disclosure," in denying the summary judgment motion. VPPA was enacted in 1987 by Congress in a knee-jerk response to the Washington, D.C. City Paper publishing a record of video store movie rentals by then U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.

The plaintiffs, whom the Reuters article reported are scattered among New York, Illinois and California, want $,2500 per alleged VPPA violation, along with punitive damages and costs. They allege Hulu sent their personal viewing histories to Scorecard Research, a market research component of comScore, Inc., and to Facebook, Inc., which allegedly linked the video selections to Facebook registration data, according to the Reuters article.

Hulu is a joint venture of News Corp., Walt Disney Co. and Comcast Corp. through Fox Broadcasting, ABC and NBC Universal, respectively. The venture is expected to generate $1 billion in revenues this year, according to Reuters.

Another motion to dismiss the case is slated to be heard in February, 2014, in which Hulu is expected to argue that it did not knowingly transmit allegedly protected data to marketing and social media outlets in violation of VPPA.
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