Blockbuster sued over Facebook ad feature

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SAN JOSE – A Texas woman has sued Blockbuster Inc. alleging the video rental company transmitted her personal information to Facebook.com through the Web site’s Beacon marketing program.

Cathryn Elaine Harris, of Dallas County, Texas, claims that Beacon, which Facebook launched in November, got the information from Blockbuster through computer tracking programs without her permission.

In her complaint, filed April 9 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Harris claims that by allowing Facebook to get at information on her movie renting and buying habits Blockbuster violated the Video Privacy Protection Act.

Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for Dallas-based Blockbuster, said the company denies the allegations.

“Our alliance with Facebook included numerous levels of privacy protection built in for our online subscribers,” Hargrove said.

Beacon, which members could always opt out of, tracks purchases Facebook members make online and sends members’ “friends” alerts about the transactions. Within a few weeks of its launch, thousands of complaints poured in from Facebook users who hadn’t realized it would share their commercial activity. Now users must opt into the program if they want it.

But Harris’ lawsuit, which she hopes the court will certify as a class action, claims the damage is already done and that Blockbuster continues to share her information.

“To this day, however, Facebook still receives personal identifiable information from participating Web sites … whether the Facebook member has chosen to distribute their information or not,” the complaint says. “To this day, Blockbuster Online members remain unsuspecting victims.”

It was not clear from the complaint whether Harris is claiming that Blockbuster is sharing new information.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Facebook did not immediately respond to a call requesting comment.

Harris’ lawyers at The Corea Firm and Otstott and Jamison in Dallas could not immediately be reached Thursday evening.

Congress passed the Video Privacy Protection Act in 1988 in response to the experience of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, whose video rental history was obtained by a newspaper.

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