Turns Out Hulu was Watching YOU

The popular video streaming site Hulu was sued in federal court recently for allegedly violating the privacy rights of users, according to the New York Times.

Case Rests on 25-Year Old Video Rental Law

Plaintiffs allege that a decades-old law prevents online video streaming services like Hulu from saving and sharing their viewing histories.

The 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act was passed to prevent the "wrongful disclosure of video tape rental or sale records" or similar audio-visual materials. Congress quickly passed the law after a newspaper obtained and published the video rental history of conservative Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.

One has to wonder why Congress was in such a hurry to make video rental records private. Anyway...

Hulu Tracked and Shared Viewing Histories

Apparently, Hulu let a company called KISSmetrics store a user's video streaming history in a "cookie" (a small file on the user's computer). That information was shared with advertisers and other companies like Facebook, ostensibly for profit. Facebook even got the user's Facebook ID.

Hulu says it no longer uses KISSmetrics, but apparently has not said if it still tracks or shares such information.

Does the Law Protect Streamed Video Histories?

The Plaintiffs have now cleared a substantial hurdle. Last Friday, a magistrate judge ruled (in their favor) that the VPPA can apply to new types of prerecorded content.

However, the magistrate judge did not determine if the VPPA applies to this technology. As a note, it is still unclear if it even applies to DVD or video game rentals, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The case will now proceed to discovery, when each side can obtain evidence and information from the other.

For more information on the VPPA, see Wikipedia and EPIC.