In separate cases, users accuse Disney and Hulu of breaking 1980s video privacy law, claim damages

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on July 5, 2014

From The News Desk

In two separate class action suits, both Disney and Hulu are being accused of illegally sharing user viewing data with third parties.

In the Disney case, New Yorker James Robinson claims that the company's Roku app has shared details of his viewing habits with Adobe as part of an analytics partnership.

Courthouse News has more details of the complaint which was filed in Manhattan Federal Court:

Unbeknownst to its users, each time they use the Disney Channel to watch Disney videos or television shows, Disney discloses their personally identifiable information - including a record of every video clip viewed by the user (collectively, 'PII') - to unrelated third parties...
Robinson is attempting to get class certification for the case (making it a potentially far more costly for Disney class action suit) and is also claiming statutory damages and an injunction to stop the tracking.

Meantime, here in San Francisco, a judge has just ruled that a similar suit against Hulu -- brought by lead plaintiff Joseph Garvey -- is not eligible for class certification due to the difficulty in establishing that all the affected users were suitably similar. Garvey had claimed that Hulu had used, amongst other things, his Facebook likes in order to track his video habits. That, he claimed, constituted sharing his data with a third party.

What's interesting is that the two separate cases both rely on the same piece of legislation, which was created long before Internet video became a "thing." Both plaintiffs cite the federal Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), which was first enacted in the late 80s to protect video store customers from having their rental history made public. The law followed the publication in Washington City Paper of a list of video rentals made by then Supreme Court nominee, Robert Bork (who, charmingly, also brought us the verb "to bork.")

This isn't the first time the VPPA has been used against online video companies, nor is it the first time Facebook was implicated. In 2008, Blockbuster customer Cathryn Elaine Harris sued the rental chain for sharing her rental history with Facebook via Beacon. (According to court records, Harris dropped the action in 2010, not long after Facebook agreed to shutter Beacon following a separate class action suit.) In 2011, Netflix cited VPAA as the reason it couldn't include the US in its global roll-out of tighter integration with Facebook. Still, that didn't prevent the company being sued under VPAA in late 2011 -- another class action suit which was ultimately settled, including an agreement by Netflix to limit user tracking once they leave Netflix apps.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has a good primer on VPAA here.

[Photo credit: Katie (Creative Commons)]