It's not known why the jury rejected actress June Hoang's claim. But the trial did make at least one thing very clear: Lying about your age isn't easy in the era of Big Data.
Hoang first created a profile on IMDb.com back in 2004. At the time, she wrote that she was born in 1978. In fact, she was born in 1971.
Several years later, Hoang no longer wanted 1978 year of birth to remain on her profile. She asked IMDb.com to remove it, but the company refused. She went back and forth with IMDb.com for a while, eventually sending altered documents that purported to show a different year of birth.
Meanwhile, someone at IMDb.com decided to conduct an investigation. As part of that process, 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.) After IMDb.com figured out Hoang's real name, the company scoured public records until discovering that she was born in 1971. The company then added that information to her profile.
Either way, the jury wasn't swayed that IMDb.com had violated its contract with Hoang.
Hoang isn't the first person to feel betrayed by how a Web service handled registration data. Several years ago, Ohio judge Shirley Strickland Saffold sued the Cleveland Plain Dealer for allegedly unmasking her as a prolific anonymous commenter.
The paper reported that “lawmiss” had commented on pending legal cases, including a capital murder trial. At the time, then-editor Susan Goldberg argued that the judge's identity was newsworthy.
Unlike Amazon, the Plain Dealer settled with Saffold rather than go to trial. But both cases show just how easily information about people can be accessed -- and used in ways that they didn't authorize.
As Balasubramani writes this week: “IMDb’s ability to look into its registration database and determine Hoang’s true name, and from there obtain her date of birth with just a few mouse-clicks, was a great illustration that you’re never as anonymous or pseudonymous as you think you are.”