Milberg PBS Class Action Lawsuit Cites VPPA Improprieties
by Brian Eckert
If you are a subscriber to PBS.com, you may be eligible to participate in a class action lawsuit filed by lawyers for Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman (“Milberg”).
In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Milberg alleges that the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) disclosed the personal viewing information of its digital subscribers to Meta Platforms, Inc. (i.e., Facebook), in violation of the federal Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA). As a PBS.com subscriber, you may be automatically included as a class member and entitled to compensation if the lawsuit results in a verdict or settlement.
Background on the VPPA
The VPPA was enacted in 1988—a time when Americans regularly rented videotapes and Blockbuster was still a major player in the video content game. Congress passed the law in response to the publication of a Supreme Court nominee’s video rental history. It prohibits a “video tape service provider” from “knowingly disclosing” a person’s personally identifiable information (PII) to third parties, unless the individual first provides their informed, written consent.
Although a law pertaining to video tape rentals may seem outdated in our digital age, its general language is applicable to PII that’s linked to digital video materials. Indeed, at a time when our data is shared around the Internet, often without our consent or knowledge, the Senate’s warning from 1988—that Americans are daily forced “to provide to businesses and others personal information without having any control over where that information goes”—is more relevant than ever.
Lawsuit: PBS Shared Data With Facebook Without User Permission
Milberg’s lawsuit alleges that PBS.com, in its capacity as a “video tape service provider,” violated the VPPA by disclosing its subscribers’ personal viewing information to Facebook without telling them about these disclosures. In the process, PBS profited at the expense of its subscribers’ privacy and statutory rights, the lawsuit contends.
The Video Privacy Protection Act allows for damages of at least $2,500 per person.
PBS is accused of sharing subscriber PII with Facebook through the use of code that tracks when subscribers use the PBS.com website or PBS app. Specifically, the lawsuit claims that PBS shares a person’s Facebook ID and the video content they viewed, allowing Facebook to know what video media one of its account holders viewed on the PBS.com site or app. And PBS allegedly does all of this without disclosing to its subscribers that it will share their viewing history with third parties like Facebook.
“Because PBS.com digital subscribers are not informed about this dissemination of their Personal Viewing Information – indeed, it is automatic and invisible – they cannot exercise reasonable judgment to defend themselves against the highly personal ways PBS.com has used and continues to use data it has about them to make money for itself,” states the complaint.
The lawsuit allegations are similar to those cited in Milberg’s case against Military.com for VPPA infringements.
Proposed Class and Potential Damages
The lead plaintiff in Milberg’s PBS class action lawsuit is a PBS.com digital subscriber as well as a Facebook account holder. She says that she never consented, agreed, authorized, or otherwise permitted PBS to disclose her personal viewing information to Facebook, nor was she provided with a written notice of, or means of opting out of, such disclosures.
Plaintiff brings this class action on behalf of herself and all others who meet the following class criteria:
All persons in the United States with a digital subscription to an online website owned and/or operated by PBS that had their Personal Viewing Information disclosed to Facebook by PBS.
The VPPA allows for damages of not less than $2,500 per person. Eligible class members do not have to hire a lawyer or pay attorneys’ fees. Your privacy rights are being protected by Milberg—the law firm that pioneered federal class action litigation.