Class Says Blockbuster Invades Privacy

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     Blockbuster invaded customers' privacy by sending information about their movie rentals to the Facebook Web site, according to a federal class action. Plaintiffs say Blockbuster's cooperation with Facebook's "Beacon" system violates the Videotape Privacy Protection Act, which Congress passed after a newspaper obtained a list of 146 movies Robert Bork or his family had rented, and publicized it during Bork's failed nomination to the Supreme Court.

    Facebook launched Beacon in November 2007, in cooperation with 44 other Web sites, that automatically fed information to Facebook, plaintiffs say. This was not just for social purposes, but was "a core element in the Facebook Ads system for connecting businesses with users," plaintiffs say.

    Blockbuster sent information about movie rentals to Facebook, which added it to members' Facebook profile, "something like this: 'Preston added Lord of the Rings to his queue on Blockbuster.com,'" the complaint states.

    This was an opt-out system, in which users had to check a box to prevent the information from being distributed, plaintiffs say.

    Faced with furious criticism about privacy invasion, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was forced to issue an apology, in December, which is quoted, apparently in full, in this filing. "To this day, however, Facebook still receives personal identifiable information from participating Web site with the Beacon javascript, whether the Facebook member has chosen to distribute their information or not," it claims.

    Plaintiffs say that if users did not check the opt-out box quickly enough, their information would be sent to Facebook, and that along with "a picture of the individual who purchased the movie and a Blockbuster ad." They say that Blockbuster did not notify online customers that this information was being sent to Facebook until "sometime in December 2007. However, the summary is immediately sent to a user's Facebook profile even before the user has a chance to decline the distribution of he/her personal identifiable information - as long as you have not marked the privacy feature telling Blockbuster never to send summaries. To this day, Blockbuster online victims remain unsuspecting victims," the complaint states.

    Blockbuster, which has 64 million "active users," is the 7th most popular site on the Web, the complaint states.

    Represented by lead counsel Jeremy Wilson with The Corea Firm of Dallas, plaintiffs demand $2,500 for each violation of the Videotape Privacy Protection Act, and punitive damages.

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