In a recent legal development, the ad-supported video streaming platform Tubi is embroiled in controversy as it faces serious allegations regarding the handling of user data, specifically involving the sharing of users’ video viewing habits without their express consent. In a landmark ruling, U.S. District Court Judge John Tharp, Jr., based in the Northern District of Illinois, has allowed a lawsuit to proceed that accuses Tubi of potentially infringing upon the Video Privacy Protection Act – a piece of legislation enacted in 1988 designed to safeguard consumers’ video viewing records from unauthorized sharing.

The litigation traces back to a class-action lawsuit initiated by Illinois resident Sylvia Campos, who asserts that Tubi employs advanced tracking technology to harvest subscribers’ personal and video-viewing information. This data, she claims, is subsequently shared to enable targeted advertising by external parties, premised on users’ viewing patterns.

Further complicating the narrative, the lawsuit highlights Tubi’s partnership with TransUnion, aiming to meld subscribers’ viewing information with detailed demographic data to pinpoint their identities more accurately. This collaboration, revealed in a 2020 disclosure, was portrayed as a fusion between Tubi’s insights into user content preferences and TransUnion’s comprehensive consumer data, promising advertisers unprecedented targeting capabilities across individual and household levels, thereby enhancing the personalization of ad experiences alongside content.

Tubi’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit was based on the argument that Campos’s claims were overly broad and lacked specificity regarding the exact nature of the data shared and the parties it was shared with. The company emphasized that the practice in question pertained to targeted advertising rather than the disclosure of personally identifiable viewing habits to third parties.

However, Judge Tharp refuted Tubi’s dismissal request, pointing out that the allegations, including Tubi’s accord with TransUnion, sufficiently suggest that Tubi could indeed be collecting user data, inclusive of individual viewing records and personal information, for ad targeting purposes. Judge Tharp’s disposition in the case further tackled Tubi’s plea to mandate arbitration for the dispute, rooted in its terms of use. He decreed that Tubi failed to prove these terms were effectively communicated to Campos, particularly critiquing the visibility of the terms of use link on Tubi’s registration interface.

This legal standoff against Tubi emerges amidst a broader trend of privacy-related litigation confronting various companies. Interestingly, just a week before this ruling, Dotdash Meredith’s Allrecipes faced a judgment in a similar vein concerning video privacy law violations.

As the legal proceedings unfold, this case underlines the ongoing tension between digital advertising practices and consumer privacy rights. It marks a pivotal moment for streaming services and highlights the paramount importance of transparent and consensual data practices in the rapidly evolving digital landscape.

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