updated 04:23 pm EST, Mon December 23, 2013
Judge rules Hulu must face privacy lawsuit
Hulu will have to face a class action lawsuit from users angered by the television streaming service's sharing of viewing histories with Facebook and business metrics company comScore. Reuters reported on Monday that U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler rejected Hulu's argument last week that the complainants in the case had suffered no actual wrong due to Hulu's actions. Instead of the case being dismissed, Hulu will now have to face the plaintiffs in court, with the case potentially resulting in damages of at least $2,500 per violation in addition to punitive damages.
The plaintiffs took issue with Hulu's sharing their viewing habits with comScore and Facebook, saying that the transmission of their Facebook data made it possible for parties to personally identify viewers according to their registration information. They cited the Video Privacy Protection Act, adopted in 1987 in order to protect information regarding the viewing habits of VHS renters.
Hulu had argued in opposition that the VPPA was not applicable to the current case, as it was not "adopted to impose multi-billion dollar liability on the transmission of anonymous data where no one suffers any actual injury."
Further, the streaming company argued that many users sign up with fake names, with 644 having signed up as "Homer Simpson," another 450 calling themselves "Mickey Mouse," and fully 18,581 calling themselves "John Doe."
Judge Beeler, though, dismissed Hulu's arguments as insufficient. The law did not require actual injury in the form of deleterious effects from a disclosure, she said. Rather, "the statute requires only injury in the form of a wrongful disclosure" before damages could be available.
While the judge did not comment on the validity of the case, she did rule that it must proceed for now, and she scheduled a February 6, 2014, hearing on Hulu's second motion to dismiss. Having failed to nullify the plaintiffs' claim to standing, Hulu will then argue that it did not knowingly transmit protected information to Facebook and comScore in a way that violated the VPPA.