Appeals Court Considers Reviving Case Against Spokeo

spokeoInaccurate information on Spokeo potentially harmed Virginia resident Thomas Robins in his search for a job, his lawyer argued this week to a federal appellate panel.

Robins is asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate his lawsuit against the online data company, which he alleges violates the Fair Credit Reporting Act by selling information about consumers without allowing them to correct mistakes.

U.S. District Court Judge Otis Wright II in the Central District of California dismissed the lawsuit in 2011. He ruled that Robins lacked “standing” to proceed in federal court because he couldn't point to any tangible injury caused by Spokeo's information.

But Robins' lawyer, Steven Woodrow, argued at the hearing this week that he believes the data on Spokeo harmed his employment prospects. Robins alleged in his original lawsuit that Spokeo correctly lists neighborhood and siblings' names, but inaccurately reports other data -- including his age, marital status and field of employment.

Spokeo's attorney, Donald Falk, countered that the type of information available through Spokeo doesn't have the kind of “demonstrated significance” that should allow a consumer to proceed in court without some sort of evidence of injury. “There are no allegations that something scandalous had been said,” Falk argued. “There's no allegation that he even asked Spokeo to take something down.”

Robins wasn't the only one to target Spokeo. The Federal Trade Commission also accused the company with violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Spokeo settled those charges last year by agreeing to pay $800,000 and also promising to comply with the consumer protection law in the future. The FTC alleged that Spokeo sold information about job applicants to prospective employers, without first taking steps to ensure the data's accuracy. Spokeo also allegedly violated the law's provisions requiring consumer reporting agencies to verify purchasers' identities, as well as provisions requiring agencies to tell people when reports about them are purchased.

Spokeo said at the time that it never intended to act as a consumer reporting agency. The FTC enforcement action came two years after the digital rights group Center for Democracy & Technology filed a complaint against the company.

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