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Netflix sued for violating privacy laws

Mon, 12/21/2009 - 7:15am
Brian Santo

Netflix is being sued for violating the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) – for making public what it warranted was completely anonymized subscriber data.

The company made the data publicly available for a contest it held for a more sophisticated recommendation engine.

Even though the data was supposed to be anonymized, some of those who got their hands on it were in fact able to extract information about individuals and their viewing habits.

The person who is suing is described in multiple reports as a lesbian from Ohio whose data was included, and she is concerned that if information about her sexuality were to get out, she and her family could be discriminated against. She is charging violations of VPPA and several California privacy statutes.

The suit also seeks to block Netflix’s proposed Netflix Prize 2 contest, a follow-on to the first. With this subsequent contest, Netflix proposes to include even more data on even more individuals.

The VPPA was passed in 1988, responding to an event during the confirmation hearings of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. A reporter asked for, received and published a list of Bork’s rentals from his local Blockbuster store. The Act makes the release of private data illegal under most circumstances.

More Broadband Direct 12/21/09:
•  MPEGIF launches '3-D over MPEG' campaign
•  DirecTV asks FCC not to include its boxes in retail
•  Verizon Wireless to FCC: Smartphones more costly
•  Limelight Networks buys EyeWonder for $110M
•  Netflix sued for violating privacy laws
•  Future TV the focus of Master Class at CES
•  Maine to consider cell phone cancer warning
•  Broadband Briefs for 12/21/09
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