Class Riled Up at Classmates.com

     SEATTLE (CN) – To compete with Facebook, Classmates.com is abandoning the privacy protections it promised its clients, according to a class action in Federal Court.




     The class claims the new policy “will expose the personal information of Classmates users to millions of persons who are unknown to both the users and to Classmates,” exposing Classmates customers to “unwarranted intrusions, harassment and other harms.”
     On Jan. 30, Classmates sent this notice to its customers:
     “To make it easier for old friends-including you!-to reunite, we’re coming up with ways to let more people use Classmates from around the Internet without having to visit Classmates.com.
     “To do that, we’re about to start making your public Classmates content available to people using a variety of sites and devices, including Facebook and the iPhone. This content can include your name, photos, community affiliations, and more.
     “Of course, we care about your privacy as much as we do your ability to catch up with your past. We’re updating our privacy policy to make these new features possible, and you’re able to opt out.”
     The class claims that this new policy “will have severe, adverse privacy implications for Classmates Users,” that the “opt out” policy is confusing and insufficient, but that the notice “is presented in such an innocuous and favorable manner that users would not even be tempted to ‘opt out’ of the new policy.”
     Previously, Classmates users had to sign up for an account before seeing profiles, and Classmates had the ability to track which users viewed other users’ profiles, according to the complaint.
     The policy switch was due to “increasing business pressure from ‘social network’
     Web sites such as Facebook, which also provide a venue for old friends to reconnect and communicate,” according to the complaint.
     “In or about 2009, Classmates began to work on a strategy to tap into Facebook’s more than 100 million users, and direct their attention to the store of information accumulated over the years on the Classmates Web site. It has done this despite the fact that (unlike Classmates) Facebook has been repeatedly sued for violating its users’ privacy rights and mishandling information contained on its Web site,” the complaint states.
     The class seeks damages for violations of the Electronic Data Privacy Act and the Washington Consumer Protection Act, breach of contract and unjust enrichment. It also wants Classmates enjoined to send users a detailed explanation of the new privacy policy before it institutes it.
     The putative class is represented by Roger Townsend with Breskin Johnson & Townsend.

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