Cable One Can't Shake NebuAd Privacy Case

In a partial defeat for Cable One, a judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit accusing the broadband provider of violating the wiretap law by partnering in 2007 with defunct behavioral targeting company NebuAd.

The ruling, issued this week by U.S. District Court Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala in the Northern District of Alabama allows Leisha Reaves to proceed with her claim that the Cable One worked with NebuAd to deploy “spyware” that intercepted and monitored broadband users' Web traffic in order to send them targeted ads.

But Haikala also denied Reaves class-action status, ruling that she could only proceed as an individual.

The decision dealt only with the highly technical matter of whether the lawsuit was barred by the federal wiretap law's two-year statute of limitations. Reaves didn't file the potential class-action until March of 2011 -- more than three years after NebuAd's activities were known.

Haikala ruled that the clock effectively stopped running on Reaves' personal case in November of 2008, when an earlier potential class-action was filed against NebuAd, Cable One and five other broadband providers WOW, Embarq, CenturyTel, Knology and Bresnan.

NebuAd, which shuttered in 2008, agreed to settle that lawsuit for $2.4 million, but the ISPs fought the cases.

Privacy advocates as well as lawmakers criticized NebuAd's system, which relied on “deep packet inspection” technology to gather data about Web users' activity directly from their ISPs. One objection was that ISPs could provide data about everything consumers did online -- including their sensitive searches and browsing activity at noncommercial sites.

Embarq, which also worked with NebuAd, defeated a similar lawsuit in 2012 when the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that NebuAd alone was responsible for any interceptions of subscribers' data. WOW and CenturyTel also prevailed in court, while a case against Knology was sent to arbitration.

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