Hulu sued for privacy violations

/ 6 years ago

Due to a 1988 video rental privacy law the media streaming giant Hulu has found itself in a compromising position. An anonymous group of individuals are suing Hulu for violations of privacy induced by sharing users’ video watching history with advertisers. The accusations brought forward are so serious not because of what Hulu has done but because it gave its customers no option to opt-out of their data being shared.

Hulu asked for Federal courts to dismiss the case but the Federal courts refused stating the plaintiffs have a valid case. 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”.

The Video Privacy Protection Act prohibits a “video tape service provider” from knowingly disclosing any personally identifiable information. The phrase seems to have precise enough language to exempt an enterprise like Hulu since they do not deal in video tapes. 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

The last phrase “similar audio visual materials” is where Hulu is brought in to this niche case. We will find out over the coming months how similar Hulu really is to rental cassettes.


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