Judge Rules Consumer Online Video Viewing Habits Should Be Kept Private

Judge Rules Consumer Online Video Viewing Habits Should Be Kept Private
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A federal judge in California has ruled that consumers have the same right to privacy when watching an online video as they do when renting from their corner video store.

The ruling comes as the result of a class action lawsuit brought against online video site Hulu, which has admitted to selling data about their users' viewing habits to marketing data service KISSmetrics.

In her decision to deny Hulu's motion to dismiss the case, Judge Judge Laurel Beeler held that the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) does apply to online videos, just as it does to videotape rentals.

Hulu had claimed that it was within its rights to sell its users' viewing preferences because they were watching online and not renting videotapes.

The VPPA was passed in 1998 after the videotape rental habits of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork were disclosed to the press. The law applies to 'prerecorded video cassette tapes or similar audio visual materials' and requires users' consent before any personal information showing their requests or purchases of this kind of material may be disclosed.

It also specifies that this information may only be disclosed 'to a law enforcement agency pursuant to a warrant issued under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, an equivalent State warrant, a grand jury subpoena, or a court order.'

The Court found that the term 'similar audio visual materials' suggests that the law covers various forms of video content, regardless of whether it is delivered online or on a videotape.

It further found that 'Congress [intended to protect] the confidentiality of private information about viewing preferences regardless of the business model or media format involved,' thus striking down Hulu's argument that because consumers did not pay for the online videos they were not entitled to privacy protection rights.