When Boston Globe Media Partners illegally disclosed without consent subscribers’ personally identifiable information to Meta via the Facebook Tracking Pixel, it violated the Video Privacy Protection Act (the “VPPA”), a federal statute enacted in 1988 in response to the disclosure of then-Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s video rental history without his permission.
To prevent repeated invasion of privacy like the Bork incident, the VPPA generally prohibits any “video tape service provider” from disclosing a consumer’s viewing habits without a consumer’s written consent.
Despite its analog origins, this decades-old statute has recently been used in class action litigation brought against website operators, who should face $2,500 per violation liquidated damages under the law.
These lawsuits allege that companies using tracking devices—such as the code for Google Analytics or Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook pixel tool—violate the VPPA because they share viewing data with the tech giants about the videos that their website visitors watch.
The statute provides for liquidated damages of $2,500 per violation but while lawyers expect to cash in on a big share of hefty settlements, class action members are cheated because they would get only pennies on the dollar if the court okays the deal.
The 226,000 digital subscribers —whose trust was violated— would get only $20 to $40 from the Boston Globe as a punishment for the company failing to keep contract terms. Lawyers in the case are likely to collect a third of the $5 million settlement.
The proposed settlement, now pending in U.S. District Court, would encompass $4 million to compensate subscribers, who could each receive $20 to $40 apiece, plus another $1 million to extend the subscriptions of affected users for one week.
To exclude themselves from the class, victims must send a letter no later than August 11, 2023, but anyone who meets certain criteria can get a payment by filing a claim form no later than October 23, 2023.
Individuals in the United States who simultaneously had a Facebook account and a subscription to the Boston Globe from February 5, 2020, through May 25, 2023, may learn more about their legal rights and other factors in the case at Ambrose v Boston Globe – Home (bostonglobevppasettlement.com).
If the company had to pay each subscriber the full $2,500, it would cost the company $565 million, which is more than Boston Globe’s annual revenue of $510 million. The Boston Globe denies that it violated any law, but the defendant has agreed to this settlement to avoid the uncertainties and expenses associated with continuing the case.
Founded in 1872, the Boston Globe is a daily newspaper based in Boston, Massachusetts, that has won a total of 27 Pulitzer Prizes.
The online edition, Boston.com, was launched on the World Wide Web in 1995 and has consistently ranked among the top ten newspaper websites in America, winning numerous national recognition, including two regional Emmy Awards in 2009.
Defendants have had success arguing that they do not qualify as a “videotape service provider” under the VPPA if they broadcast live videos, which are arguably not similar to videotapes.
Courts denying motions to dismiss have held that the plaintiffs plausibly alleged that defendants—such as the Epoch Times, WebMD and Boston Globe Media Partners—both qualified as video tape service providers under the law and knowingly disclosed to third parties personally identifiable information about visitors viewing the videos on their websites.
Given that plaintiffs are alleging that companies are violating the VPPA every time a user watches a video on their website, the class of plaintiffs in a given action could conceivably consist of thousands of consumers. Boston Globe Media Partners