Privacy Lawsuit Accuses HBO Of Sharing Subscriber Data With Facebook Without Consent

woman tv popcorn
Can streaming services share your viewing history? Not without your permission. HBO currently faces a class action lawsuit in which it has been accussed of knowingly sharing its customers' viewing histories with social media platforms without their explicit consent.

The lawsuit alleges that HBO shares customer lists with Facebook. This in turn permits Facebook to match a person’s HBO viewing list with their Facebook profile. HBO directly benefits from this action because Facebook can use this information to target and re-target certain ads to HBO subscribers. It is a win-win situation for HBO and Facebook, but not necessarily for customers. The lawsuit furthermore claims that HBO has committed these acts without customer consent. 

person tv remote
HBO Max’s privacy policy does state that the service uses cookies to deliver personalized ads and collects, uses, and shares data for other purposes. However, the lawsuit argues that HBO needs separate consent from customers to share their viewing histories due to the 1998 Video Privacy Protection Act. The 1998 Video Privacy Protection Act prevents the “wrongful disclosure of video tape rental or sale records,” or of other similar audio visual materials, outside the regular course of business. The law was passed after Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork's video rental history was shared. 

Hulu was accused of the same actions in 2011 as it had also provided video viewing history with Facebook. However, Hulu won the lawsuit in 2015 because the court found “the absence of any issue of material fact that Hulu actually knew that Facebook might combine information that identified Hulu users with separate information specifying which video that user was watching.” The main difference with the HBO lawsuit is that the plaintiffs are accusing HBO of knowingly offering this information without user consent.

The HBO lawsuit has been filed in New York on behalf of HBO Max subscribers Angel McDaniel and Constance Simon and is being handled by law firm Bursor and Fisher. The firm has a proven track record with class action and data privacy lawsuits. They helped file a class action lawsuit in 2015 against Hearst which accused the company of violating the state of Michigan’s Michigan Video Rental Privacy Act. Hearst ended up paying a $50 million USD settlement.