Hulu sued over 24-year old video privacy law

By on August 15, 2012, 5:00 PM

Due to a 1988 video rental privacy law, media streaming outfit Hulu has found itself in a jeopardous position. An anonymous group of individuals are suing Hulu for purported violations of privacy, a charge brought about by sharing users' video watching history with advertisers.

Hulu, accused of crossing legal boundaries by sharing data with third-parties with no method of opting out, motioned for the San Francisco-based Federal court to dismiss the case. However, the presiding judge sided with plaintiffs, agreeing they had valid concerns. Although the law was written in an era of VHS tapes, Judge Beeler argues that the Video Privacy Protection Act contains broad enough language to also include "new technologies for prerecorded video content".

Interestingly, Hulu's newfound legal troubles bear much similarity to Netflix's recent troubles. The company also found itself battling against the Video Privacy Protection Act in a California court this year. Netflix eventually chose to voluntarily settle its class-action lawsuit however, instead of testing its litigious mettle in court.

The VPAA prohibits a "video tape service provider" from knowingly disclosing any personally identifiable information. This is splitting hairs, but the law's text specifies "video tape service provider" -- a phrase which seems to have precise enough language to exempt an enterprise like Hulu. However, the law defines a "video tape service provider" in such a way that it becomes more ambiguous.

(4) the term “video tape service provider” means any person, engaged in the business, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, of rental, sale, or delivery of prerecorded video cassette tapes or similar audio visual materials

Source: Video Privacy Protection Act

The inclusion of "similar audio visual materials" serves as a catch-all, gifting the court with the burden of determining exactly what legislators intended in context to modern times.

Just how similar is Hulu to video tapes? It looks like we'll find out in the coming months.

User Comments: 9

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Scshadow said:

Karma would be a *****. I really don't care if advertisers track my viewing habits but Hulu is really pissing me off right now with facebook integration. We can't write or read reviews unless we do it on facebook now and for several weeks, all options to turn off auto-play on has been removed. It will play through the night if you don't stop it. So yeah, let karma be a *****.

avidwriter_ said:

I was a little sick to find out Netflix had been selling all my info when that news broke. Hopefully a few more lawsuits like these will put some fear into companies and make them think twice before treating customers like that. one can hope.

Wizz-Fizz Wizz-Fizz said:

In this particular instance I think Hulu should be punished.

The sharing of personal information is way out of hand these days!

There needs to be, at a bare minimum, a "Clearly Defined" opt-out option.

Just because we choose to use these services, does not give the right for the service providers to do whatever they please with our personal information.

If these types of providers want to collect browsing, listening and viewing histories to better their own services, fine, Im all for service improvement, but dont go making a sly buck at the expense of an individuals right to privacy!

PinothyJ said:

This would be illegal in Australia anyway as any company that "sharing data with third-parties with no method of opting out" is already covered under our law and would already be deemed inappropriate.

Hell, automatic opt-in is against our laws to begin with...

Capaill said:

I suspect Facebook has a lot to do with this weakening of private data ... You cannot install anything on FB without giving the unknown author full access to all your information and photos to do with as they please. People are getting used to giving away their private details to mass marketers and advertisers and companies are pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable. Lawmakers need to put their collective foot down and remind the companies where the line is.

That Australian law sounds like an excellent place to start.

AttorneyMalley AttorneyMalley said:

Hulu was not sued over a 24-year old video privacy law. The legal issues related to a document that is two hundred and twenty-five(225) years old, and called the U.S. Constitution.

Attorney Joseph H Malley

Dallas, Texas,

(email removed)

One of the Class Counsel representing the HULU class representatives

Rick Rick, TechSpot Staff, said:

Hulu was not sued over a 24-year old video privacy law. The legal issues related to a document that is two hundred and twenty-five(225) years old, and called the U.S. Constitution.

Gravity has kept the constitution bound to the surface of our blue marble for 225 years. I submit to you that the law of gravity is the true culprit here.

Guest said:

I'm part of the large majority that does not want Facebook or Twitter forced on me. Without FB and Twit--and if my privacy is not thrown out the window--maybe this loose-as-goose internet nonsense can be toned down enough that it is no longer an insult to everyone using it. (?)

Guest said:

digital spock "live long and torrent!"

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