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Paul Ohm writes about Netflix's insane new plan to release millions of customers' personal information -- ZIP code, gender, year of birth -- as a sequel to its Netflix Challenge. Latanya Sweeney's famous study on de-anonymizing data has shown that date (not just year) of birth, gender and ZIP are sufficient to personally identify 87% of Americans. In other words, Netflix is about to put the behavioral data about viewing choices for millions of Americans into the public domain, despite its legal duty to keep this information private.
Because of this, if it releases the data, Netflix might be breaking the law. The Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), 18 USC 2710 prohibits a "video tape service provider" (a broadly defined term) from revealing "personally identifiable information" about its customers. Aggrieved customers can sue providers under the VPPA and courts can order "not less than $2500" in damages for each violation. If somebody brings a class action lawsuit under this statute, Netflix might face millions of dollars in damages.
Netflix's Impending (But Still Avoidable) Multi-Million Dollar Privacy Blunder
Justin Shafer was roused from his bed this week by thunderous knocking at his North Richland Hills, Texas home, and when he opened the door, found himself staring down the barrel of a ‘big green’ assault weapon, wielded by one of the 12-15 armed FBI agents on his lawn.
Every year, the Senate passes a secret bill (that is, a bill whose text is a secret during its debate) that re-authorizes intelligence agencies’ surveillance powers; this year, someone (possibly chairman Richard Burr, R-NC and/or Tom Cotton, R-AR) has snuck in an amendment that would give the FBI the power to demand warrantless access to […]
In Evaluating the privacy properties of telephone metadata, a paper by researchers from Stanford’s departments of Law and Computer Science published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors analyzed metadata from six months’ worth of volunteers’ phone logs to see what kind of compromising information they could extract from them.
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