Major Streaming Services Involved In Massive Lawsuit For Sharing Personal Customer Data

A judge recently dismissed a Scripps lawsuit that strove to uphold an individual’s streaming privacy.

By Lyndon Nicholas | Updated

Many have long accused companies like Facebook, Hulu, and Netflix of prioritizing profit over privacy when it comes to streaming practices. A recent ruling may make it harder for users to keep these companies from sharing their personal data. According to an article from the Hollywood Reporter, a judge recently dismissed a lawsuit that strove to uphold an individual’s streaming privacy.

In the ruling in the streaming privacy lawsuit against Scripps Network, U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel noted that plaintiffs were “subscribers to newsletters, not subscribers to audio visual materials,” and that “an individual must do more than simply take advantage of a provided service – even if doing so alone allows a provider to access her information – in order to have acted as a ‘subscriber’ of the provider.” Ultimately, he ruled to dismiss the lawsuit on these grounds. 

Facebook released its own statement on streaming privacy, urging advertisers to use discretion and not to divulge users’ sensitive information.  “Doing so is against our policies and we educate advertisers on properly setting up Business tools to prevent this from occurring,” the company said. 

The lawsuit was against Scripps Network, which was accused of breaching users’ streaming privacy by sharing the personal history of subscribers to Facebook because of their use of Meta’s Pixel tool. Meta’s Pixel tool is a marketing analytics tool that allows users to track and measure the effectiveness of their Facebook ad campaigns by monitoring traffic and actions on a website. It allows users to track things like page views, click rates, and other events that occur on their website.

streaming privacy

In essence, since the judge ruled that the newsletter that the plaintiffs subscribed to was a separate content offering from the network’s video content, the readers of the newsletter didn’t count as subscribers and were thus outside the realm of streaming privacy law unprotected by the VPPA. Although the newsletter may encourage viewers to traffic Scripps video content, it did not require a subscription or force users to interact with the company’s video content any more than any of the site’s other regular website visitors.

The decision is aligned with findings in a number of other federal cases regarding streaming privacy. One suit involving AMC reached a similar conclusion when the federal judge ruled that it takes more than the use of a provided service for someone to be considered a subscriber, even if that service allows a provider access to their personal information or viewing habits. 

In all, it bolsters the argument that companies engaged in video and streaming services have multiple layers to their business, and not all of those layers are involved with and protected by the VPPA. When it comes to consumers, this means that yes, users’ information can be used and distributed by entities like Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg even if they aren’t considered subscribers. This ruling may make it more difficult for those looking to gain more scrutiny into data sharing and streaming privacy practices moving forward.

In reality, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have long been known to gather data and use that data to curate a more personalized experience with the ultimate goal of ramping up viewing numbers and making a profit. Although companies can operate in a more transparent way when it comes to streaming privacy and make more options for people who’d rather not have their personal data collected, in the absence of explicit federal data privacy law, the current unclear and often obfuscatory data practices that are prevalent now are likely to remain the norm.