When logging into a streaming service like Disney+®, Hulu®, or HBO®, have you ever considered what personal information you may be exposing about yourself? Probably not, but unfortunately, this may be a question you now have to ask as, recently, multiple streaming services have been accused of violating consumers' privacy rights by disclosing their private data, including their video viewing history, via a tool created by a social media platform company.
The Meta Pixel tool was created by Meta®, the company previously known as Facebook®. The Tool, as described by the company, is a "piece of code that you put on your website that allows you to measure the effectiveness of your advertising by understanding the actions people take on your website." Using this tool, companies can use or potentially sell this information to ensure certain ads are shown to you based on the actions taken and, with those ads, drive more sales.
However, streaming companies or companies that offer streaming services that use this tool may be in violation of federal law. Utilizing the pixel tool without the consent of a customer violates the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA)18 U.S.C. § 2710. Enacted in 1988, VPPA was passed to protect the video viewing histories of customers of brick-and-mortar video rental providers. However, as video content has moved online, more recently, litigants have sought to extend the VPPA to streaming services, as well as any site offering video content.
Federal law requires these companies to obtain written consent from customers in order to share their video-watching information with third parties. In recent years, more than 80 VPPA class action lawsuits have been filed, asserting that the pixel tool violates the VPPA.
Companies Using the Pixel Tool May Be in Violation of VPPA
Many consumers may not realize that their private information is collected by popular streaming services like Paramount+® or ESPN+® every time they watch a video on one of the provided platforms. As mentioned, under the VPPA, it is unlawful for a "video tape service provider" to knowingly disclose, to any person, "personally identifiable information" concerning any "consumer" of such provider without their consent.
Since 1988, the way people consume media has shifted, moving away from physical videotapes and onto online streaming platforms. In recent years, many courts have shifted their interpretation of the VPPA. The law states that a "video tape service provider" is defined as "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."
Due to the change in materials and platforms used to consume certain forms of media, the phrase "similar audio-video materials" is now interpreted by courts to encompass online videos, such as those streaming on websites. In that same light, previously, a "consumer" was described as any renter, purchaser, or subscriber of goods or services from a videotape service provider. Now, some courts require the consumer to have a continuous relationship with the company, known as a "subscription."
"Personally identifiable information" involves the information that can identify a person as having requested or obtained specific video materials or services from a video tape service provider. With all of this newly interpreted information and the connection made to the Pixel tool in giving companies the ability to not only collect but share your viewing history and other personal data with third parties, many believe that their VPPA rights have been violated.
According to the VPPA, courts may award consumers up to $2,500 in liquidated damages per VPPA violation. If you believe your private information has been exploited by an online streaming platform such as Hulu®, Disney+®, Paramount+®, ESPN+®, Starz®, HBO Max/MAX®, and AMC+®, you may be eligible to recover financial compensation.
For more information about the Pixel tool and the VPPA claims, contact a Morgan & Morgan attorney today by completing our free, no-obligation case evaluation form.