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.