Blockbuster sued over Facebook Beacon program

Blockbuster Inc. is being sued by Cathryn Elaine Harris, of Dallas County, Texas, for transferring her personal data to Facebook’s Web site.

Harris claims that Beacon, a Facebook marketing program which last year, got information on her movie renting and buying habits from Blockbuster through computer tracking programs without her permission or consent.

The complaint was filed on April 9 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. Harris claims that Blockbuster violated the Video Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits a video store from disclosing information about a person’s video rentals or purchases.

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.

Moreover, 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.”

Congress passed the Video Privacy Protection Act in 1988.