TV Data Tracking & Personal Data Misuse
Class Action Consumer Privacy Attorney reviewing TV data tracking lawsuits and investigating personal data theft claims for plaintiffs nationwide
The misuse of TV data, collected by media conglomerates and other corporate entities, can pose a privacy concern to consumers and lead to class action lawsuits. In recent years, some landmark litigation has led to the strengthening of consumer data laws.
In most cases, if a company does not have your permission or written consent to collect and disseminate your personal information (location data, viewing history, demographics), they may be liable for violating privacy protection statues and can be sued accordingly.
Joe Lyon is a Cincinnati, Ohio class action data privacy lawyer representing plaintiffs in Ohio and nationwide in a variety of personal data theft litigation
NBC Viewer TV Data Lawsuit
In August 2020, a TV data class action lawsuit was filed in federal court, alleging that NBCUniversal’s Golf Channel sold viewers’ personal information and viewing history without their consent. The plaintiff claims NBCUniversal sells or rents subscriber information, including names, addresses and transactional information to third-parties to bolster its revenue.
Once consumer TV data is released to third-parties, the viewing, demographic and location data may be re-sold to other third-parties, the class action lawsuit claims. The suit is asking for the court to put an end to NBCUniversal’s data-selling practice, claiming it is a violation of the federal Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA).
The original complaint contends NBCUniversal’s invasion of privacy resulted in unwanted spam e-mails and mail to home addresses. Attorneys argue the disclosures of customer TV data can lead to more harmful ends like identity theft.
Lawyers say companies have illegally sold Personal Viewing Information to data brokers like NextMark, Inc., which have a database of personal information that can be sold onward, the class action lawsuit alleges.
In the NBC case, the plaintiff claims he purchased a Golf Channel “subscription-based video good or service” within the past two years, and was not notified that his personal or viewing information would be disclosed to third-parties. The plaintiff said he was sold “videos without statutory privacy protections.”
Consumer safety attorneys say some personal information that may be revealed to marketing companies and data brokers include names, mailing address, telephone number, gender, age, income, marital and homeowner status. As a result, some consumers are badgered with unwanted and harassing robocalls and junk mail.
What is the VPPA?
The Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988, invoked in the NBC class action lawsuit, is one of the more prominent consumer privacy protections for specific forms of data collection. The VPPA states that any “video tape service provider” which intentionally discloses consumers’ personal information may be held liable for damages of $2,500 per violation. Some of the Act’s provisions include:
- A general ban on the disclosure of personally identifiable rental information unless the consumer consents specifically and in writing
- Disclosure of “genre preferences” along with names and addresses for marketing, but allowing customers to opt out
- Civil remedies, including possible punitive damages and attorney’s fees
- The VPPA does not preempt state law, so states are free to enact broader protections for individuals’ records
Vizio TV Data Tracking Lawsuit
Consumers have been purchasing internet-connected televisions since around 2010, but were not aware that their privacy may have been compromised. According to a complaint filed by the FTC, consumers didn’t know their TVs may have been watching them. The FTC lawsuit challenged Vizio’s data tracking practices after the company sold TVs that automatically tracked what consumers were watching and collected that data. Attorneys claimed this was all done without getting consumers’ consent.
Vizio identified viewing data from service providers, streaming devices, media players, and live broadcasts and sold viewing histories to advertisers. According to the lawsuit, the company provided IP addresses to data aggregators, and permitted these companies to track consumers across multiple devices.
To settle the case, Vizio agreed to stop unauthorized tracking, to properly disclose its TV data collection practices, and to get consumers’ consent before sharing their viewing information.
Weather Channel Location Data Lawsuit
A civil lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles as city prosecutors allege that The Weather Channel app transmitted their location data to third parties. The suit aims to stop the companies involved from using consumers’ information. The lawsuit seeks civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation. Attorneys allege that the firm profited from that data for purposes unrelated to the app.
The New York Times has reported that dozens of companies collect location data from customers and only partially disclose how that information will be shared and used.
The Weather Channel app has around 45 million monthly users, and TWC collects “more than one billion pieces of location data per week.” Tracking the movement of consumers can be used to monitor users’ daily habits, consumer preferences, and even identities, making location data quite valuable to the targeted advertising industry.
In the Privacy Settings section of the app, it states that geolocation data may be used for relevant ads and may be shared with partners.
FTC Media Recommendations
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has offered companies some advice that may help them avoid litigation in the future. Some FTC guidance includes:
- Explain data collection practices to clients, and tell consumers from the outset about what information they intend to collect. Also, make it clear to the average person with little understanding of what data collection is by using simple language. Transparency can help avoid potential lawsuits.
- Get consumers’ written consent before any data collection and offer an “opt-in” option to the practice.
- Apply all established consumer protection laws and principles to new technology as to avoid deceptive or unfair practices.