Court dismisses lawsuit alleging PBS violated digital subscribers’ privacy

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A class-action lawsuit claiming that PBS violated the privacy of digital subscribers was dismissed Friday.

According to court records, plaintiff Jazmine Harris agreed to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice. Both parties will pay their own legal fees. PBS declined to comment on the resolution, while Harris’ lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

In her initial complaint, filed in June, Harris asserted that PBS violated the Video Privacy Protection Act when it used Facebook tracking technology to collect personal data about her and other “subscribers” to its website, including which videos they watched. The lawsuit alleged that PBS matched that information with users’ Facebook identification before transmitting their personal information to Meta, the company that operates Facebook, without users’ knowledge or consent. The data was then used to deliver targeted ad messages to PBS subscribers, according to the lawsuit.

The initial complaint requested that PBS be ordered to pay $2,500 to Harris and each class member affected under the statute. Harris also sought additional punitive damages to be awarded after a jury trial. PBS filed a motion to dismiss in August 2022 and reiterated its arguments in October, but in March, a judge found sufficient merit to have the case proceed to discovery.

The parties filed a joint motion to stay proceedings April 14 in an effort to resolve “this matter amicably,” according to the filing. The court approved the motion and postponed discovery.

The Video Privacy Protection Act generally prohibits “video tape service providers” from knowingly disclosing “personally identifiable information” about any of its consumers or subscribers without their consent. The law was enacted in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan after the video rental history of the late Robert Bork, whom Reagan nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987, was leaked to the press.

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