Spokeo Charged With Violating Fair Credit Reporting Act

Spokeo

Virginia resident Thomas Robins is trying for a second time to bring a class-action lawsuit against controversial online data broker and aggregator Spokeo.

Robins' first complaint against the Web site was dismissed last month after a U.S. District Court judge in the Central District of California ruled that Robins had not adequately alleged that he was harmed by the information on Spokeo. In his new legal papers, filed on Wednesday, Robins asserts that inaccurate information on Spokeo has cost him money by hampering his job search. "Robins has been actively seeking employment throughout the time that Spokeo has displayed inaccurate consumer reporting information about him and he has yet to find employment," he alleges. "This harm is also imminent and ongoing."

Robins' lawsuit is one of several actions brought recently against Spokeo. The company operates an online search engine that allows Web users to search for detailed reports about individuals by name, email address, screen name or phone number. Spokeo gleans information from a variety of databases, including social-networking sites. It offers some basic information for free, but also sells a variety of data, including estimates of individuals' financial wealth.

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Robins says that Spokeo correctly lists neighborhood and siblings' names, but that most of the other data is wrong -- including his age, marital status and field of employment.

Critics argue that the site compromises people's privacy; the legal allegations against the company center on whether it is violating the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act by offering inaccurate data about consumers without effectively allowing people to remove incorrect reports.

In addition to Robins, Illinois resident Jennifer Purcell also filed a potential class-action lawsuit against the site last year. That case is pending in federal court in the Northern District of California. In addition, the digital rights group Center for Democracy & Technology filed a complaint about Spokeo with the Federal Trade Commission.

Spokeo takes the position that it is not subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act because it isn't a consumer reporting agency. The company also argues that it is immune from liability under the Federal Communications Decency Act, which generally provides that Web sites aren't responsible for content created by third parties.

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