Top Class Actions reported that Plaintiff Justin Breault filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of similarly situated individuals against NBC Universal Media, LLC for allegedly violating the federal Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA). The lawsuit claims that the media and entertainment network's Golf Channel sold subscribers' personal data and viewing preferences to third-parties.
The VPPA was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and is also known as, "Wrongful disclosure of video tape rental or sale records." It states that "A video tape service provider who knowingly discloses, to any person, personally identifiable information concerning any consumer of such provider shall be liable to the aggrieved person." A video tape service provider is allowed to disclose personal data if the consumer provides informed, written consent, "including through an electronic means using the Internet."
In 2012, Congress conducted a hearing, “The Video Privacy Protection Act: Protecting Viewer Privacy in the 21st Century," to update the VPPA and ensure it included streaming video and online TV networks. Most importantly, it made certain that companies would continue to be held liable for freely giving or selling consumer data without consent.
According to the suit, "To supplement its revenues, Defendant NBCUniversal Media, LLC, sells, rents, transmits, and/or otherwise discloses, to various third parties, records containing the personal information (including names and addresses) of each of its customers, along with detailed transactional information revealing the title and subject matter of the audiovisual material and service (i.e., the Golf Channel) purchased by each customer (collectively 'Personal Viewing Information'). After Defendant discloses its customers’ Personal Viewing Information, the various third-party recipients of this data then append to it a myriad of other categories of personal and demographic data pertaining to those customers, only to then re-sell that Personal Viewing Information (enhanced with the appended demographic information) to other third parties on the open market.
"The VPPA clearly prohibits what Defendant has done" and "shall be liable to the aggrieved person for liquidated damages in the amount of $2,500.00 per violation and equitable relief."
Breault provided evidence in the suit that NBC Universal possesses "the Personal Viewing Information of 13,089,254 American consumers who purchased Defendant’s video products is offered for sale on the website of NextMark, Inc. (“NextMark”) – one of many traffickers of this type of Personal Viewing Information – at a base price of “$85.00/M [per thousand records]” (8.5 cents each)."
He also said that the invasion of his and others' privacy in selling information to third-party brokers "resulted in a barrage of unwanted junk mail to their home addresses and e-mail inboxes."
The plaintiff also claimed that NBC Universal's practices are dangerous because it allows companies to target "vulnerable members of society. For example, as a result of Defendant’s disclosures of Personal Viewing Information, any person or entity could buy a list with the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of all women over the age of 50 who reside in New York, earn an income of over $80,000, own their home free and clear, and have purchased the Golf Channel from Defendant. Such a list is available for sale for approximately $120.00 per thousand customers listed."
The lawsuit states that potential class members are: "All persons in the United States who, at any time during the applicable statutory period, had their Personal Viewing Information disclosed to a third party by Defendant."
Breault alleges that he "did not discover that Defendant sold, rented, transmitted, and/or otherwise disclosed his Personal Viewing Information until August 2020."