Oct 172011
 October 17, 2011  Posted by  Business, Court, Featured News

Venkat Balasubramani kindly pointed me to this Jane Doe lawsuit against Amazon and its subsidiary, IMDB.com.

If I understand the thrust of the complaint, Doe, an aspiring actress, had registered with IMDB.com using her stage name. When she upgraded to IMDBpro, however, she was required to provide a credit card number, and with it, the name on the credit card – her real name. Doe believed that the information would be kept confidential, but IMDB.com subsequently revealed her real date of birth in their database. Doe claims that IMDB and Amazon obtained her real birthdate by aggregating public sources based on the credit card data. She alleges that IMDBpro’s privacy policy had not indicated that other sources of information that they might collect would result in public disclosure of her private facts.

The meat of her complaint seems to be embodied in these paragraphs:

Little do IMDbPro subscribers know, nor are they likely aware, thatDefendants intercept, store, record, and use the information provided during thesubscription process, including their credit card information, to research and cross-reference public records and other sources to gather as much information as possibleabout each individual subscriber, including, but not limited to, his or her legal name, age,race, gender, personal shopping and spending habits, and Internet activity, which acts are unknown to and not consented to by the subscribers.

Subscribers who happen to be one of the millions of people listed in theInternet Movie Database suffer a substantial further risk of harm of their private, personalinformation becoming available to the public at www.imdb.com and other affiliated andunaffiliated websites that simply copy and republish information posted atwww.imdb.com.

In Plaintiff’s case, Defendants were able to and did access Plaintiff’s personal and credit card information by intercepting and recording her confidentialelectronic communications without or beyond her consent, further using that informationto cross-reference public records and other sources to obtain, among other things,Plaintiff’s legal name, age, date of birth, and other personal, confidential information, andmaking some of that unlawfully-obtained confidential information available to the publicat www.imdb.com and other affiliated and unaffiliated websites.

So I trotted off to look at IMDBpro’s signup process and subscriber agreement. The service’s privacy policy says, in relevant part:

What Personal Information About Customers Does IMDb Gather?

The information we learn from users helps us personalize and continually improve your experience at IMDb. Here are the types of information we gather.

  • Information You Give Us: We receive and store any information you enter on our Web site or give us in any other way. Click here to see examples of what we collect. You can choose not to provide certain information, but then you might not be able to take advantage of many of our features. We use the information that you provide for such purposes as responding to your requests, customizing future browsing for you, improving our site, and communicating with you.
  • Automatic Information: We receive and store certain types of information whenever you interact with us. For example, like many Web sites, we use “cookies,” and we obtain certain types of information when your Web browser accesses IMDb. Click here to see examples of the information we receive. A number of companies offer utilities designed to help you visit Web sites anonymously. Although we will not be able to provide you with a personalized experience at IMDb if we cannot recognize you, we want you to be aware that these tools exist.
  • E-mail Communications: To help us make e-mails more useful and interesting, we often receive a confirmation when you open e-mail from IMDb if your computer supports such capabilities. We also compare our user list to lists received from other companies, in an effort to avoid sending unnecessary messages to our users. If you do not want to receive e-mail or other mail from us, please use your Your Account page to adjust your preferences.
  • Information from Other Sources: For reasons such as improving personalization of our service (for example, providing better movie recommendations or special offers that we think will interest you), we might receive information about you from other sources and add it to our account information. We also sometimes receive updated delivery and address information from other sources so that we can correct our records and deliver your next communication more easily

As Doe alleges later in the complaint:

Shortly after subscribing to IMDbPro, Plaintiff noticed that her legal date of birth had been added to her public acting profile in the Internet Movie Database, revealing to the public that Plaintiff is many years older than she looks.

In the entertainment industry, youth is king. If one is perceived to be“over-the-hill,” i.e., approaching 40, it is nearly impossible for an up-and-coming actress, such as the Plaintiff, to get work as she is thought to have less of an “upside,” therefore,casting directors, producers, directors, agents/managers, etc. do not give her the same opportunities, regardless of her appearance or talent.

After discovering the public exposure of her legal date of birth in theInternet Movie Database, Plaintiff contacted IMDb and requested that it remove the date of birth associated with her public acting profile from the Internet Movie Database.

IMDb refused, and still refuses to remove the date of birth associated with Plaintiff’s public acting profile from the Internet Movie Database.

The date of birth currently associated with Plaintiff’s acting profile in the Internet Movie Database is the date of birth associated with Plaintiff’s legal name, which Defendants obtained from the credit card that Plaintiff used to purchase the IMDbPro subscription.

That Amazon/IMDBpro would aggregate public records – assuming for now that they have, indeed, done that – does not surprise me.

That they would reveal personal information such as date of birth in a public profile without the consent of a subscriber does surprise me as there is nothing in their privacy policy that would appear to permit that. Or are they now the True Age Police?

That they would refuse to remove the information when made aware of the concern/complaint is mind-boggling. Even though their privacy policy does say “we might receive information about you from other sources and add it to our account information,” I do not think that most subscribers would interpret that to mean that information thus added would be publicly disclosed.

Another interesting case to watch.

  3 Responses to “Aspiring actress sues IMDB and Amazon for revealing her true age and for misusing her credit card details to obtain it”

  1. She should hope one of the three credit reporting agencies do not have her DOB. Since DOB is required on credit card applications and said applications are verified with a credit reporting agency, they most likely have it on file.

    Thus, Amazon’s terms of service state they may obtain information “from other sources” and post it.

    One would hope her attorney would have done his own search of available records as a part of his due diligence. 🙁

  2. What I’m not clear about is whether “adding information to the account” is an appropriate caution for disclosing said information in the subscriber’s public profile. Where do you see them as saying that they can and may post it? I don’t read their privacy policy as being clear that they feel free to add to a subscriber’s public profile, and that’s the real issue here as I see it.

  3. Shocking that she’s only seeking $1million. SCOTUS has already held that a person’s identity is their own personal, private, most intimate property “worth more than any other thing that can ever be owned”. Last I checked, Apple Inc, Exxon Inc, the Saudi Investment Fund were all worth a few zeros more than a million. Maybe it’s a typo as it is more reasonably valued at a Trillion or more in U.S. law.

    It’s also still illegal in the U.S. (arising in English Common Law – maybe still applicable in numerous other English Common Law jurisdictions) just to ask a woman her age. Geez, it used to be that you couldn’t graduate high school without taking a law class and learning the crimes it is to ask a woman her age (U.S.).

    It just seems ridiculous that IMDb/Amazon would indulge in such flagrant criminal activities with such high civil liabilities. Just goes to show how entitled big businesses feels to take and misuse the private property of the average and little people.

    Hopefully Jane Doe, or her lawyers, will correct that filing and go after the Trillion or more that it’s worth. In fact, they should probably go after IMDb/Amazon under RICO which, with triple damages, means something potentially worth well over $3 Trillion to Ms. Doe. Still not really enough for the commission of such vile acts against her, though.

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