Dow Jones Wins Video Privacy Battle Over Roku App

Siding with Dow Jones, a federal judge has dismissed a potential class-action privacy lawsuit accusing the news organization of sending information about Roku users to the analytics and video ad company mDialog.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Cohen in Atlanta said in a ruling issued late last week that any data allegedly transmitted to mDialog wasn't “personally identifiable” and therefore didn't violate users' privacy rights.

“The record does not establish any context or basis for finding that information disclosed by Dow Jones to mDialog identifies specific viewers,” Cohen wrote in a 15-page opinion.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed last year by Georgia resident Terry Locklear, who alleged that the news company's Roku app automatically transmits information about The Wall Street Journal Live clips that users view — along with the serial number of their Roku devices — to mDialog. Locklear argues that this activity violates the Video Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits video providers from revealing consumers' personally identifiable information without their written consent.



Locklear argued that mDialog was able to identify her by liking other data to her Roku serial number.

But Cohen ruled that the serial number itself was still anonymous, as opposed to personally identifiable. “Third-party mDialog had to take further steps, i.e., turn to sources other than Dow Jones, to match the Roku number to plaintiff,” he said in the decision.

The lawsuit is one of several recent cases alleging that companies that offer online video violate the Video Privacy Protection Act— a 1988 law that was passed after a Washington newspaper obtained the video rental history of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.

The Cartoon Network recently prevailed in a similar matter. In that case, Android user Mark Ellis unsuccessfully argued that the Cartoon Network violated the video privacy law by transmitting the names of videos viewed through the Android app to the analytics company Bango.

Ellis is now appealing that ruling.

Hulu also is facing a lawsuit accusing it of violating the video privacy law. In that case, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco ruled that the company didn't violate users' privacy by transmitting “anonymous” information about the movies they watched to comScore.

But Beeler said in a ruling issued last year that Hulu might have violated the law by sharing data with Facebook via the “Like” button, which was configured to transmit titles of the videos that people watched to Facebook's server — regardless of whether users clicked the "Like" button. In some cases, that button also transmitted cookies to Facebook that contained a Facebook ID — which revealed the screen names that people used on Facebook. That matter remains pending.



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