A proposed class action lawsuit alleges Times Publishing Company, owner of TampaBay.com, secretly transmits digital subscribers’ personal data to Meta Platforms (Facebook) without consent.
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According to the 27-page lawsuit, the defendant has directly violated the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), which prohibits “video tape service providers” from disclosing information about consumers’ video viewing habits without prior consent. The suit relays that the “automatic and invisible” disclosures to Facebook include subscribers’ unique Facebook IDs and the names and URLs of any videos they watched while on TampaBay.com.
“By disclosing its digital subscribers [sic] Personal Viewing Information to Facebook—which undeniably reveals their identity and the specific video materials they requested from Defendant’s website—Defendant has intentionally and knowingly violated VPPA,” the case charges.
The complaint alleges that TampaBay.com, the online incarnation of the Tampa Bay Times, uses a Facebook tracking pixel to collect and transmit user information and activity back to the social media company. Per the filing, Facebook tracking pixels are coded back-end tools that companies can embed into their websites to collect personal data and report on user interactions with the pages.
The Facebook tracking pixel “grants Facebook knowledge of the Video Media each of its subscribers view on the Tampabay.com site,” the lawsuit says. By utilizing a Facebook tracking pixel, the defendant’s website is able to record and report back to Facebook a visitor’s video viewing activity and unique Facebook ID “even when the digital subscriber has not shared (nor consented to share) such information,” the suit explains.
Per the filing, Facebook IDs can be used to identify users’ Facebook profiles and access all the public information appearing on their personal pages. By disclosing subscribers’ Facebook IDs, the defendant thereby provides enough information to link a specific individual to their video viewing behavior, the case contends.
“Defendant could easily program its website and App to prevent its users’ Personal Viewing Information from being automatically transmitted to Facebook when a subscriber views Video Media,” the complaint reads. “However, it is not [sic] Defendant’s financial interest to do so because it benefits financially by providing this highly sought-after information.”
The lawsuit claims that TampaBay.com “reaps these secret profits” at the expense of consumers and their protected privacy rights.
Like other consumers, the plaintiff, a Florida resident and digital subscriber to TampaBay.com since 2018, never authorized the website to disclose her personal information to Facebook—a requirement under VPPA, the case states.
The lawsuit looks to represent anyone in the United States with a digital subscription to a website and/or app operated by Times Publishing Company, including TampaBay.com, whose personal viewing information was disclosed to Facebook.
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