Netflix Sued For Revealing Private Info In $1 Million Ratings Contest

from the borked-by-the-bork-law dept

As we've noted in the past, there really is no such thing as an anonymized dataset. There are almost always ways to reconnect at least some of the data to individuals. Now, when it comes to movie rental data, that's especially problematic, due to the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), 18 USC 2710, a special law that was passed after Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork ran into some trouble when his movie rental lists were made public. Last year, Blockbuster and Facebook ran into some trouble over this law, due to Facebook's disastrous "Beacon" offering, that often displayed your Blockbuster rentals. But, what about the famous Netflix prize? After all, that was based on a big "anonymous" set of data. Back in September, we noted that there was some serious concern about privacy associated with that data... and that meant it was only a matter of time until the lawsuit was filed.

Apparently the same lawyer who brought the lawsuit over the Facebook/Blockbuster Beacon snafu has sued Netflix over its contest. It is, of course, a class action lawsuit, filed initially on behalf of an "in-the-closet lesbian mother" who claims that her video rental info was included in the anonymous data, and that it could be used to "out" her. While I agree that the data likely wasn't very anonymous, this lawsuit does seem like something of a stretch, in the typical class action format of a lawyer reaching pretty far in hopes of getting a big payout. I do have concerns about Netflix releasing a big dataset, but this lawsuit is just a pure moneygrab.
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Filed Under: anonymity, anonymous dataset, class action, movie rentals, netflix prize, privacy
Companies: netflix


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  1. identicon
    Joe Smith, 5 Jan 2010 @ 6:30pm

    how many bits does it take?

    I competed in the Netflix prize contest and, frankly, I never gave a damn who the customers were.

    The breach of privacy was only possible if the attacker had a lot of info about the target - not just what they rated, but when they rated it.

    Finding a needle in that haystack was impossible unless the needle was jumping up and down shouting "look over there and you'll find me."

    The fact is that most people are not nearly as different or as interesting as they think they are and the rest of us have no interest in violating their privacy - in fact we wish the neighbors would close their windows and curtains. So far as the lesbian lady - who, other than her husband, would give a rat's ass whether or not she was lesbian.

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