Hulu's New Argument In Privacy Case: Didn't Know 'Like' Button Sent Users' Data To Facebook

Hulu says in new court papers that it's entitled to prevail in a lawsuit accusing the company of violating a federal privacy law by allegedly sharing users' personal information with Facebook.

The lawsuit centers on allegations that Hulu wrongly shared information with Facebook via the “Like” button, which loads automatically when users watch video on Between April of 2010 and June of 2012, the “Like” button was configured so that it transmitted titles of the videos that people watched to Facebook's server -- regardless of whether users clicked the button to indicate that they “liked” the clips.

Hulu argues in its newest court papers that there's no evidence it knew that adding Facebook's “Like” button to the site would result in the transmission of information about users to Facebook -- which was accomplished via cookies.

“Nothing in this comprehensive record shows a knowing disclosure of [personally identifiable information] by Hulu,” the company argues in a motion for summary judgment filed on Tuesday with U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in the Northern District of California. “In fact, the evidence shows the opposite: Hulu did not know that Facebook’s cookies contained the Facebook User ID, or what Facebook did, if anything, with any such data.”

Hulu adds that it placed the “Like” button on the site in order to enable users to promote content. “It was not done at the request of Facebook or as a result of any negotiations with Facebook,” Hulu says.

The consumers who are suing allege that Hulu ran afoul of the federal Video Privacy Protection Act, a 1988 law that prohibits movie rental companies from disclosing information about which videos people watch. Congress passed the law after a newspaper in Washington obtained and published the video rental records of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.

Hulu argues in its latest motion that placing a social widget on its pages isn't comparable to disclosing a consumers' movie-viewing history to the media. The company specifically says it isn't “in the same position as a video store owner who purposefully hands a newspaper reporter a piece of paper containing the name of a Supreme Court nominee and the titles of 100 videos that he rented.”

Beeler recently narrowed the case against Hulu by dismissing allegations that it violated the law by also transmitting data about users to comScore. She also ruled that the consumers weren't entitled to class-action status -- though lawyers for the consumers have said in court papers that they intend to renew their request to proceed as a class.

But the company lost a critical battle in this lawsuit two years ago, when Beeler ruled that the federal video law applies to companies that stream video on the Web. She said in her decision that the law aims protect the privacy of people who watch video regardless of technical format.


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