Dow Jones Didn't Violate Video Privacy Act By Disclosing User Viewing Information

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Jan. 26 — Dow Jones & Co.'s disclosure of a user's Roku serial number and video viewing history to a third party didn't violate the Video Privacy Protection Act, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled Jan. 23.

The named plaintiff failed to allege that the disclosed information constituted personally identifiable information (PII) within the meaning of the statute, Judge Mark H. Cohen said. A “Roku serial number, ‘without more,' is not akin to identifying a particular person and therefore, is not PII,” the court said.

The court said its conclusion was in line with other district court decisions examining the meaning of PII within the context of the VPPA, such as In re Hulu Privacy Litig., No. 3:11-cv-03764-LB, 2014 BL 120236 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 28, 2014), In re Nickelodeon Consumer Privacy Litig., No. 2:12-cv-07829, 2014 BL 186702 (D.N.J. July 2, 2014) and Ellis v. Cartoon Network, Inc., No. 1:14-cv-484-TWT, 2014 BL 283139 (N.D. Ga. Oct. 8, 2014).

Alleged Disclosure of Personal Information

International media company Dow Jones offers the free, on-demand “Wall Street Journal Live Channel” on Roku streaming devices, which deliver videos and other content to consumers' televisions through the Internet.

The plaintiff brought a putative class action against Dow Jones, alleging that it disclosed her PII—her Roku device serial number and video viewing information—to a third-party analytics and advertising company without her consent.

She claimed that this disclosure of her PII violated the VPPA, 18 U.S.C. § 2710, which prohibits a “video tape service provider” from knowingly disclosing a consumer's PII. The statute defines PII to include “information which identifies a person as having requested or obtained specific video materials or services from a video tape service provider.”

Failure to State a Claim

The court first found that the plaintiff had Article III standing. The VPPA allows individuals who are “aggrieved” by a violation of the act to bring a civil action, and the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the term “aggrieved” broadly, the district court said.

The plaintiff's allegations that she downloaded the Wall Street Journal Live Channel and used it to watch video clips, along with her allegation that her information was transmitted to the third-party advertiser, sufficed to establish that she was a “subscriber” and therefore a “consumer” within the meaning of the VPPA, the court found.

The plaintiff, however, failed to state a claim under the VPPA because she didn't allege that Dow Jones disclosed her PII, the court said. As in Hulu, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, the third party in this case would have to take further steps, such as using sources other than Dow Jones, to match the Roku number to the plaintiff, it said.

In granting the defendant's motion to dismiss the amended class action complaint, the court said it wouldn't permit the plaintiff to file any additional amendments.

Edelson PC and The Jordan Firm LLC represented the named plaintiff. Dentons US LLP and Rogers & Hardin LLP represented Dow Jones.

Full text of the court's opinion is available at