Screen Actors Guild Sides Against Amazon In Privacy Dispute

sagimdb Actress Junie Hoang has garnered the support of the Screen Actors Guild in her battle with Amazon's IMDb.com, which she sued for publishing her real age.

The actors union, along with Writers Guild of America, West, says IMDb.com “committed an unconscionable breach of trust” by accessing Hoang's credit card information and using that data to discover -- and then publicize -- her actual birthdate.

The groups are backing Hoang in her request for a new trial against IMDb.

The unions say that their members have complained for at least 10 years about IMDB.com's unwillingness to change information on the site -- including information that is accurate, but potentially compromises people's privacy.

“Individual IMDb profiles contain information that most people would consider private and that can be used for improper purposes,” the SAG writes in its friend-of-the-court brief filed recently with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. “In particular, birthdates can be -- and are -- used to facilitate age discrimination in the casting and hiring process. ... Women over 40, in particular, are underrepresented on-screen, so the difficulties in finding work are exacerbated when they become pigeonholed by information posted to IMDb, often without their consent.”

Hoang sued IMDb.com last year, for allegedly violating its privacy policy by drawing on her credit card information to determine -- and post -- that she was born in 1971.

When Hoang first created an IMDb.com, she said she was born in 1978, according to court papers. She later decided that her profile shouldn't include any year of birth and asked IMDb.com to remove the date.

The company refused to do so without proof that the 1978 date was incorrect. After Hoang persisted, a company employee allegedly accessed the credit card data that Hoang submitted when registering for a premium profile on the site. (Hoang used a stage name on her profile, but her real name on the credit card.) Once IMDb.com determined Hoang's real name, the company scoured public records and discovering her date of birth, which it appended to her profile.

Hoang said in her lawsuit that these actions by IMDb.com violated its privacy policy. The site countered that its policy allowed it to draw on information submitted by users in order to respond to their requests.

A jury ruled against Hoang after a trial in April. She is now appealing that decision to the 9th Circuit. She argues that her original attorney, John Dozier, suffered from a serious, ultimately fatal illness, and wasn't able to prepare for the case. Her subsequent attorney was then forced to go to trial without enough information, as well as the opportunity to present expert witnesses, she says in her appellate papers. Hoang also contends that Dozier's illness prevented her from presenting witnesses who would have testified about the importance of age in Hollywood.

The SAG's friend-of-the-court brief focuses on the harm that can result to actors when their true age becomes known. “Recent data shows that roles portrayed by female actors over age 40 are less than half their actual representation in the population,” the SAG argues. The group adds that many actresses are able to portray a range of ages, but don't get the opportunity if it's known that they're over 40. “The loss of work that can result not only affects the actor’s ability to pay the rent or buy groceries, but also affects eligibility for health insurance and pension credits and can have lifelong and substantial consequences.”

Internet legal expert Venkat Balasubramani, who followed the trial closely, says the SAG “makes a good case” about how posting someone's age can cause tangible harm to an actor. That's in contrast to many privacy lawsuits, where consumers lose in court at an early stage because they aren't able to show any economic affect from the alleged violation. “A lot of privacy cases are no-harm-no-foul situations,” he says.

But Hoang still likely has an uphill battle, Balasubramani says. That's because she wasn't able to persuade the jury that the site violated its privacy policy, and the SAG's arguments about the possible harm Hoang suffered aren't necessarily relevant to whether the site broke its privacy promises.
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