Using Class Action Law to Protect Consumer Privacy

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Consumer PrivacyJay Edelson may be the most hated man in Silicon Valley, according to the New York Times.

Edelson is a class-action lawyer. His law firm specializes in suing technology companies for violating the privacy of consumers.

Edelson’s firm has sued most well-known technology companies, including Amazon, Apple, Google. His lawsuits have included:

  • suing phone companies for unwanted commercial text messages
  • suing the Spokeo search engine for posting inaccurate information about consumers
  • suing Netflix for keeping data on the movies members watched even after they canceled their subscriptions

Edelson claims to have won more than $1 billion in settlements for consumers. A class-action law firm takes a percentage of the amount recovered as its fee, 25% is typical.

Most recently, Edelson sued Facebook, charging that it “secretly amassed the world’s largest privately held database of consumer biometrics data.” This is a reference to Facebook’s ability to “tag” the people seen in posted photos.

Edelson claims that the tagging feature violates the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act by storing images of users’ faces without notifying them or obtaining their permission.

Facebook countered that the lawsuit was without merit and that the tagging feature could be turned off.

Class Actions

A class action, also called a representative action or a class suit, is a lawsuit in which a group, or class, sues another party or group of parties. Class actions may be brought both in federal and state courts and they allow the courts to manage lawsuits that would overwhelm the courts if each plaintiff sued individually.

A proposed class must consist of individuals and/or business entities that have suffered a common injury or group of injuries. For example, class actions have involved claims of:

  • environmental pollution
  • defective products
  • employment discrimination
  • civil rights violations, including racial profiling
  • institutional cover ups of sexual abuse
  • false advertising
  • videogame violence leading to murders
  • sexual harassment
  • involuntary sterilization
  • health insurance not covering contraceptives
  • price-fixing
  • data breaches and theft of consumer information

A list of major class actions can be found here.

According to the Times, there has been a recent “explosion” in class actions involving data privacy. In addition to private lawsuits, privacy laws can also be enforced via government lawsuits brought by the Federal Trade Commission.

Although class action lawsuits originated in the US, they are increasingly being filed around the world. Just recently, The Guardian reported that a 27-year-old privacy campaigner initiated a class action in Vienna on behalf of 25,000 Facebook members, alleging breaches of European privacy law.

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Kindergarten-to-Grave Privacy

Privacy is increasingly a matter for legislation as well as lawsuits.

As I previously discussed:

  • In late February, the White House released a discussion draftof the Consumer Privacy Bill Of Rights Act of 2015, also called the Privacy Act.
  • TheFamily Educational Rights and Privacy Act requires school districts to maintain the confidentiality of student records.
  • 19 states have enacted laws that protect digital assets and give family members or other designated digital executors power to maintain and update social media for the deceased.

Do you have questions about your online privacy rights?

If you have questions about your online privacy rights, or if you believe that your rights may have been violated, you may wish to consult an attorney in your area who practices privacy law.

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