Feeds

Judge sends Blockbuster to court over Facebook Beacon Borking

Ever-changing online contracts 'illusory'

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

A federal judge has given the green light to a lawsuit brought against video giant Blockbuster over its use of Facebook's privacy-destroying "Beacon" ad system.

A year ago, a Texas woman named Cathryn Elaine Harris sued Blockbuster after it used Beacon to share her movie rentals with her so-called Facebook friends. The suit seeks class-action status, and as MediaPost reports, US District Court Judge Barbara Lynn ruled that the case can go to court - even though Blockbuster's online terms and conditions insist that disputes can't be brought to court and that users must waive their right to class-action suits.

According to Judge Lynn, Blockbuster's online terms and conditions are "illusory" and "unenforceable" because the company reserves the right to change them at any time.

"There is nothing in the Terms and Conditions that prevents Blockbuster from unilaterally changing any part of the contract other than providing that such changes will not take effect until posted on the website," Lynn's ruling reads. "The Blockbuster contract only states that modifications 'will be effective immediately upon posting,' and the natural reading of that clause does not limit application of the modifications to earlier disputes."

Lynn's ruling applies "even when no retroactive modification has been attempted."

The immediate result is that Blockbuster may have to face a mass legal attack from all customers burned by the Beacon - rather than fending them off one by one. But the ruling may have broader implications for the net as a whole. Blockbuster is hardly alone in attempting to unilaterally modify its terms and conditions whenever it feels like it. Lynn's ruling would invalidate online contracts left, right, and center.

With her suit, Cathryn Elaine Harris claims that Blockbuster's Beacon use violated the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), a law laid down in 1988 after a journalist revealed videotapes rented by Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.

When it was launched in early November of 2007, Beacon automatically tracked the e-commerce habits of Facebookers and shared them with their online buddies. At first, the system was opt-out only - and the opt-out was less than obvious. But after howls of protests from privacy watchdogs everywhere, Mark Zuckerberg and company switched to opt-in model. But that was on an advertiser-by-advertiser basis, and after more howls, Zuckerberg provided a master off-switch for the ill-advised ad system. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Special pleading against mass surveillance won't help anyone
Protecting journalists alone won't protect their sources
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Apple's iPhone 6 first-day sales are MEANINGLESS, mutters analyst
Big weekend queues only represent fruity firm's supply
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Bill Gates, drugs and the internet: Top 10 Larry Ellison quotes
'I certainly never expected to become rich ... this is surreal'
Big Content Australia just blew a big hole in its credibility
AHEDA's research on average content prices did not expose methodology, so appears less than rigourous
EMC, HP blockbuster 'merger' shocker comes a cropper
Stand down, FTC... you can put your feet up for a bit
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.