ESPN Among Latest Media Cos. Accused of Sharing Subscribers’ Video-Viewing Info with Facebook Without Consent
Last Updated on March 14, 2023
Swartz v. ESPN Inc.
Filed: September 30, 2022 ◆§ 1:22-cv-01523
A class action says details of the video content viewed by ESPN.com and ESPN+ subscribers have been shared by the worldwide leader in sports with Meta Platforms without consent.
Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988
A proposed class action says details of the video content viewed by ESPN.com and ESPN+ subscribers have been shared by the worldwide leader in sports with Meta Platforms without consent.
The 27-page lawsuit against ESPN Inc. says the media company uses a pixel installed on the back end of its website to track when website and app users take certain actions, such as clicking on an ad or viewing video content. The pixel, called the Facebook pixel, also captures a subscriber’s Facebook ID, with which anyone can “quickly and easily” locate, access and identify a particular Facebook account, and a file containing details of a watched video and its corresponding URL, the suit states.
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The case alleges ESPN discloses without consent app and website subscribers’ Facebook IDs and video-viewing information “together as one data point” to Meta Platforms, and “profits handsomely” from this “unauthorized interception and disclosure” of personal data.
The complaint says that although ESPN could design its website so that subscribers’ personal video-viewing information is not automatically transmitted to Facebook, it is “not in Defendant’s financial interest to do so because it benefits financially from using the Meta Pixel.”
“The Meta Pixel allows companies like Defendant to track conversions from Facebook ads (e.g., track who visits ESPN.com by clicking on a Facebook ad), optimize ads, and build targeted audiences for future ads.”
According to the lawsuit, ESPN shares and profits from subscribers’ personal video-viewing data at the expense of their privacy rights and in violation of the federal Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) and Pennsylvania Wiretap Act. The VPPA prohibits “video tape service providers” from knowingly disclosing without consent consumers’ personally identifiable information, including that which identifies someone as having requested or obtained specific video materials, and the Pennsylvania Wiretap Act generally prohibits the interception of a person’s electronic communications and the disclosure and use of the contents of those communications.
“Because Defendant’s Subscribers are not informed about this dissemination of their personal Viewing Information—indeed, it is automatic and invisible—they do not consent and cannot exercise reasonable judgment to defend themselves against the highly personal ways Defendant has used and continues to use their data to make money for itself,” the lawsuit contends.
The lawsuit looks to cover all persons in the United States with a digital subscription to ESPN+ or ESPN.com who viewed video media on ESPN’s website or app and used Facebook during the time the Meta pixel was active on the website or app.
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