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[ NNSquad ] IMDb and Amazon vs. the "Ageless Actress"

                 IMDb and Amazon vs. the "Ageless Actress"


The story of a lawsuit relating to IMDb (part of Amazon.com) "outing"
the age of an actress (the plaintiff in this case, who wanted to keep
that information private) has been bouncing around for a bit now, but
recent developments are starting to suggest that Amazon has now
"jumped the shark" toward the dark side of this controversy.

While many observers have made light of this (so far anonymous)
actress' concerns (after all, your age isn't "protected" data in most
circumstances, and it's normally impossible to "unring" a bell in data
disclosure situations), the details of this case are actually quite

A core issue -- and what should be a point of primary focus -- is how
IMDb obtained the actress' age data before publishing it publicly.
The actress asserts (and Amazon appears to confirm) that this data was
obtained from the sign-up form the actress used to gain access to
(fee-based) IMDbPro services.

She claims that her age was requested as part of the routine sign-up
sequence along with credit card, address, and other related data, and
that it was not made clear that IMDb claimed the right to then use
this information in their public database.  When she asked them to
remove this data from public view, IMDb reportedly declined.

Digging through the rather voluminous IMDb user agreements and privacy
policy documents as they exist today at least, it's difficult for me
to determine whether IMDb's data usage policy in this respect was
definitively spelled out or not.

My own view is that there should always be an extremely clear
demarcation between personal information used to sign up for a
service, vs. the information that will be used by the service beyond
the purposes of signing up (e.g., posting in their publicly accessible
database).  Such a notice should not just be buried in policies on
other pages either -- it should be right up front on the sign-up page,
as in "Please note that your age information as entered on this form
will become part of your publicly viewable profile on IMDb."

The plaintiff in the case under discussion asserts that no such notice
was clearly provided.  Obviously this will be an issue for the court
to determine, both in terms of the type of notice (if any) provided,
and whether Amazon's use of the provided data was in keeping with
their legal obligations under their Terms of Service and in all other
relevant aspects.

But now this case has taken a rather creepy turn, with Amazon 
loudly proclaiming to the court that not only should the actress not be
concerned about her age being revealed, but that she shouldn't be able
to remain anonymous during the case ( http://j.mp/un92Fj [Hollywood Reporter] ).

For me at least, these assertions leave a bad taste, indeed.

Reasonable persons can argue about whether an actor, actress, or
anyone else should be concerned about their age being publicly known
(age discrimination is a fact of life both inside and outside of
Hollywood).  But for Amazon to take the "it's not a big deal" stance
when they specifically are accused of being the entity that publicly
published data that had previously apparently been carefully kept
private, seems highly disingenuous at best.

Where Amazon really joins with Vader and company is their push to have
the actress' name (which they obviously already know) be publicly
revealed.  Their motive seems clear -- essentially, revenge.  If her
identity is exposed now, Amazon would have created a fait accompli
that would serve no purpose other than to create further distress on
the part of the plaintiff.

Since public linkage of identity and age are at the center of this
case, there is no convincing reason I can see why this actress'
identity should be revealed at this stage.  We constantly condemn
firms that inappropriately attempt to unmask whistleblowers in court.
As far as I'm concerned, the plaintiff in this case falls into the
same "protected identity" status as those whistleblowers, at this

Ultimately, the case should revolve around a single set of issues --
did Amazon/IMDb inappropriately use personal information for their
public database?  Were their Terms of Service clear regarding their
use of IMDbPro signup data?  Did the signup forms appropriately and
clearly warn potential subscribers how that signup data would be used
by Amazon?

If IMDb was honest and clear on these points, with obvious notices on
the forms to warn users how submitted data could become public, then
Amazon should win this case.  If IMDb misused the signup data, or did
not in a clear and direct way warn users how signup information could
go public, then Amazon should lose.

The rest of Amazon's arguments regarding the case at this point appear
to be largely irrelevant and diversionary, and I hope that the court
seems through them, and concentrates on the question of Amazon's
handling of personal information and related notification disclosures.

So far, Amazon seems to be largely "blowing off" concerns about their
behavior in this matter, and worse, is attempting to preemptively
shift blame to the plaintiff.

Amazon's stance on this -- regardless of the underlying facts
regarding their notifications and Terms of Service -- seems arrogant
at best.  This isn't the first time we've seen this from Amazon.  It
is not becoming to them, and it is certainly not in the best interests
of the Internet community at large.

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com): http://www.vortex.com/lauren 
Co-Founder: People For Internet Responsibility: http://www.pfir.org 
 - Network Neutrality Squad: http://www.nnsquad.org 
 - Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance: http://www.gctip.org
 - PRIVACY Forum: http://www.vortex.com 
Member: ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com 
Google+: http://vortex.com/g+lauren 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/laurenweinstein 
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800 / Skype: vortex.com