As we've noted in the past, there really is no such thing
as an anonymized dataset. There are almost always ways to reconnect at least some of the data to individuals. Now, when it comes to movie rental data, that's especially problematic, due to the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), 18 USC 2710
, a special law that was passed after Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork ran into some trouble when his movie rental lists were made public. Last year, Blockbuster and Facebook ran into some trouble
over this law, due to Facebook's disastrous "Beacon" offering, that often displayed your Blockbuster rentals. But, what about the famous Netflix prize
? After all, that was based on a big "anonymous" set of data. Back in September, we noted that there was some serious concern about privacy
associated with that data... and that meant it was only a matter of time until the lawsuit was filed.
Apparently the same lawyer who brought the lawsuit over the Facebook/Blockbuster Beacon snafu has sued Netflix over its contest
. It is, of course, a class action lawsuit, filed initially on behalf of an "in-the-closet lesbian mother" who claims that her video rental info was included in the anonymous data, and that it could be used to "out" her. While I agree that the data likely wasn't very anonymous, this lawsuit does seem like something of a stretch, in the typical class action format of a lawyer reaching pretty far in hopes of getting a big payout. I do have concerns about Netflix releasing a big dataset, but this lawsuit is just a pure moneygrab.