Corporate greed, or just doing business

I recently received an email informing me of my inclusion as a member of a class action lawsuit against Netflix. I usually just delete these things (or recycle as needed), but this one caught my attention. Apparently a couple of gentlemen from Virginia decided to sue Netflix for retaining their personally identifiable information for at least a year after they cancelled their accounts.

Their personally identifiable information was described as:

  • Names, phone numbers, and address
  • Billing information, including credit card numbers
  • All previously requested DVDs and instant titles
  • DVD and instant queues
  • Preferences and ratings on watched titles

I can agree that Netflix does retain ALL of this information. Having been a subscriber to their DVD service seven years ago (opening and closing an account in 2005), I opened an account in 2011 to discover that my queue still existed, along with a list of all DVDs ever mailed to me, my old credit card number including expiration dates, and all of my ratings.

Now, part of me feels this is an invasion of my privacy, and a potential security risk. On the other hand, how helpful that all of my ratings and viewing history had been retained so that I could pick up right where I left off (so to speak). However, the U.S. Government had already made the conclusion for me…

Apparently, there is some 1980’s federal law which prohibits “video tape rental providers” from retaining rental history a year after its original use. I know, you are sitting there wondering how this applies to Netflix. I thought the same thing. Netflix has never provided video tapes for rental, or sale for that matter. Nonetheless, the law was interpreted by the court that it apply to similar rental services. I can imagine the bickering back and forth with Netflix lawyers explaining the difference between circular DVD platters and rectangular VHS tapes.

So, what exactly was Netflix trying to accomplish? Were they retaining that information to help customers that potentially would come back, or to line their pockets by selling my information to third parties?

This case provides a great opportunity to examine our current laws, especially those which were written before the great advances in technology over the last two decades. Laws which govern piracy, internet technologies, fair use, copyrights, net neutrality, and much more. We need laws that are clear to understand.

Another bone of contention for me, with class action lawsuits, is the enormous amount of cash heaped upon the class action attorneys. In this Netflix case, attorneys are being rewarded $2.5 million, plus $250,000 in reimbursement (because, you know, that $2.5 million just ain’t gunna cut it). The two class action representatives will each be awarded $15,000 (you now, the guys actually ‘damaged’ by Netflix), and all of us other class action members get $0. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Apparently, any money left over gets donated to not-for-profit organizations determined by the court.

Only once have I ever opted out of a class action lawsuit (some sort of judgement against Apple which I didn’t think was fair). I really don’t think it’s worth my time to actually look into these class action suits, and opt out. Maybe I should. You never know. I might get another 7ยข check from an eBay settlement.

This has been today’s Clarified Butter.