Aug. 20, 2012 at 2:53 PM ET
If you hatehaving the stuff you’re looking at online automatically shared with friends, strangers and marketing bots, here’s a ruling out of a California District Court that may give you somesatisfaction.
In a classaction suit against Hulu, the District Court for the Northern Districtof California ruled that the video content you view online falls under the Video Privacy Protection Act. This applies even if youdidn’t pay for that content, the way renters and buyers had to back in the VHS days.
This clarification of the VPPA, passed by Congressin 1988, is a long time coming, and not a moment too soon, the Electronic Frontier Foundation contends. Another video contentbusiness — Netflix — encourages legislation to amend the VPPA to easerestrictions on “frictionless sharing” — which only requires a single opt-in witha company to broadcast the stuff you’re looking at each and every time.
According tothe class action suit against Hulu, the video content company violated the VPPAby sharing user viewing histories with third parties. Hulu argued that viewersdidn’t count as “consumers” because they didn’t pay for content, and further, thecompany disclosed information as part of its “ordinary course of .. . business.”
The court disagreed.
“Congress [intended toprotect] the confidentiality of private information about viewing preferencesregardless of the business model or media format involved,” the court wrote inits finding.
President Ronald Reagansigned the VPPA into law almost 25 years ago, after Supreme Court nomineeRobert Bork’s video rental history was leaked to the press. In this post-Blockbusterage, several online outlets have run afoul of the law.
As Facebook and other online businesses increasingly depend on user information to make money, this clarification on video privacy should come to anyone whose ever been frustrated by opt-in and opt-out buttons on various applications.
"Applications commonly require users to consent to access a particular article and everything they subsequently read gets shared via a social network," the EFF writes. "Passed long before the advent of 'frictionless sharing' the VPPA was generally intended to protect against this very type of powerlessness with respect to videos."