Identity Theft

Two Lawsuits, Millions of Plaintiffs, One Question: Does Privacy Matter?

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Cursor_Mykl_Roventine_CCFlickrWhen Jared Reagan and David Pitner decided to sue YouPorn.com, the irony was pretty obvious. Here they were, suing a company for invading their privacy, even as the lawsuit itself informed a federal judge and the rest of the world about their own private behavior: That Reagan and Pitner regularly watch porn.

“Certainly they were embarrassed,” says Majed Nachawati, Reagan and Pitner’s attorney.

But the fact that Pitner and Reagan were willing to put their names to a lawsuit against YouPorn underscores how serious the company’s privacy violations really were, their lawyer says. “They were more worried about the fact that these people were disseminating our data to people who shouldn’t have had access to it” says Nachawati.

Just a few months ago, the topic of online tracking wasn’t so prominent on the public’s radar. That changed noticeably with the recent uproar over Apple’s secret tracking of users. Within days of the revelation that iPhones and iPads automatically record their users’ locations down to the city block, Apple received a letter from Senator Al Franken and a lawsuit from consumers alleging the practice violates privacy.

The Apple controversy may have scored serious media attention, but before that, two lawsuits were already leading the consumer charge to reign in suspected privacy abuses. One is Pitner and Reagan’s suit against YouPorn, one of the web’s largest pornography sites. The other lawsuit is against Interclick, a large online ad network that works behind-the-scenes to run advertising campaigns for some of the world’s largest corporations, including McDonald’s and CBS.

Together, these lawsuits may play a major role in defining the future of privacy and advertising online, according to industry observers.

“The problem is that they said one thing to consumers and then they did another, in an underhanded fashion,” says Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, an online privacy rights group. “I think that’s a really legitimate thing to put to a legal test.”

[Article: Congress Probes Google, Apple on Tracking]

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Image: Mykl Roventine, via Flickr.com

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