[Post by Venkat Balasubramani]
Hoang v. Amazon.com, Inc. & IMDB.com, Inc., C11-1709MJP (W.D. Wash.; Mar. 30, 2012)
Hoang sued IMDB, alleging that IMDB took information she provided when she paid for her subscription and used this information to derive her birthdate. She alleges IMDB then added her birthdate to her public profile and declined to remove it despite her request. She asserts claims for breach of contract, fraud, along with claims under the Washington Privacy Act and the Washington Consumer Protection Act. (She initially filed a Doe lawsuit and argued that she should be able to proceed pseudonymously, but the court rejected this request. See coverage from Matthew Belloni here: “Actress Suing IMDB Reveals Her Real Name.”)
You can choose not to provide certain information, but then you might not be able to take advantage of many of our features . . . . IMDB uses the information that you provide for such purposes as responding to your requests, customizing future browsing for you, improving our site, and communicating with you.
Remaining claims: The remaining claims are largely nuked, with one big exception. The court says that Hoang fails to identify any fraudulent statements, and her broad claims about IMDB’s misuse of her information is not sufficient to state a fraud claim. Her claim under the Washington Privacy Act fails as well because this statute covers the interception or recordation of private communications, and Hoang failed to identify any communications intercepted or recorded by IMDB. The one claim which the court did not dismiss which could turn into a problem for IMDB is the Consumer Protection Act claim under Washington law. This allows Hoang to ask for treble damages plus injunctive relief (which may be something IMDB is more worried about).
* Re-identification is risky behavior for companies.
* Finally, a privacy plaintiff who does not have an Article III standing problem! Her damages may not seem like they are the easiest to prove and they may not be astronomical. However, she clearly gets past the Article III hurdle, and if she can get in front of a jury and argue that big bad IMDB (Amazon) played fast and loose with her information, and failed to remove it upon her request, she may find a sympathetic audience.
[It’s also worth noting that IMDB did not try to force Hoang to arbitrate her claims. IMDB’s terms do not contain an arbitration provision. I’m guessing they will consider adding one soon.]