Privacy Suit Facing Hulu May Lead to Damages

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Hulu must face claims that it illegally disclosed viewer data to Facebook and a business-analytics service, a federal judge ruled, finding users can recover damages by merely showing that the disclosure occurred.
     Joseph Garvey is the lead plaintiff in putative class action that says Hulu "repurposed" its browser cache to let marketing-analysis services store the private data of users.
     While U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler gutted the case last June, she deferred ruling on the alleged violation of the federal Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), enacted in 1988 after a Washington, D.C., newspaper published the video-rental history of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.
     Hulu had said the class could not prove injury to establish standing, since that would require a recitation of watched videos, and how third parties received this information.
     The media-streaming service also argued that the plaintiffs needed to prove an additional injury besides violating the VPPA, and moved for a judgment on that issue.
     Judge Beeler unraveled Hulu's argument Friday, finding that the act "requires only injury in the form of a wrongful disclosure."
     "Hulu's main argument - that the word 'aggrieved' in the statute requires an additional injury- does not change the outcome," Beeler wrote.
     Illegally disclosing personal information is an "actual injury" in this case, and the plaintiffs could recover damages if the court finds Hulu violated the VPPA, according to the 18-page order.
     In depositions earlier this year, several plaintiffs said they felt their privacy was violated by Hulu's disclosure of their personal data.
     "I'm paying for a service, and I thought that I understood what was involved in that transaction," plaintiff Paul Torre said in his deposition.
     "But now I understand more, and it's disturbing."
     A summary judgment hearing is scheduled for Feb. 6 in Beeler's courtroom.