Hulu Must Face Privacy Violation Claims

Online streaming video company Hulu must face class action claims that it violated federal privacy law by sharing consumer movie viewing history with Facebook and other companies.

A federal magistrate judge Friday refused Hulu’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, rejecting the company’s claim that the class members did not suffer any injuries as a result of alleged information sharing.

The case represents the first time a court has subjected a video streaming company to the Video Privacy Protection Act, (VPPA).

A class of viewers of Hulu’s online video content accused the firm of wrongful disclosure of their video viewing selections and personal identification to third parties, such as social networks and companies that track data, in violation of the VPPA.  The law prevents video tape service providers from knowingly disclosing personal identification information about consumers to third parties, with limited exceptions.

Hulu asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler to dismiss the case arguing that the consumers must show actual injury, apart from the disclosure violation, to recover damages under the VPPA.

“Under the plain language of the statute, plaintiffs must show only a wrongful disclosure, and not an additional injury, to recover damages,” Beeler wrote.

A group of consumers sued in 2012 alleging Hulu passed on their viewing history of Facebook and a metrics company, comScore, which tracks data, all in violation of the VPPA.

In addition, Hulu argued it only sent data that was rendered anonymous.  But Beeler noted that the company also suggested the information could be reverse engineered by Facebook or comScore to ink a person’s name with the video content, thus it did not “knowingly” disclose it.

The plaintiffs were still investigating the relationship between Hulu and comScore and Facebook at the time of Hulu’s request to throw out the case.

Beeler ruled that a motion for summary judgment may be granted only if there are no disputed issues of fact and Hulu is entitled to judgment on the law.

The issue in the current motion was whether, assuming Hulu violated VPPA, the consumers “must show ‘actual injury’ evidence beyond the unauthorized disclosure as a prerequisite to obtaining any damages.  The court holds that they do not,” she wrote.

The class action will proceed.

Case: In re Hulu Privacy Litigation, No. 11-3764LB

 

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