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As privacy on Facebook takes the headlines once again, music matchmaking service Pandora is being prodded over its privacy policies, too. Although this class action case involves violations of Michigan statutes, federal law is also relevant to the broader question of who may glimpse through the “window into our loves, likes, and dislikes.”
The federal Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 (codified at 18 U.S.C.A. section 2710) permits states to enact broader disclosure prohibitions. Michigan’s Video Rental Privacy Act (“MVRPA”) generally prohibits providers of books, sound recordings, or video recordings from disclosing information concerning a customer’s purchase, lease, rental, or borrowing of those materials that indicates the identity of the customer. The MVRPA has an exception for direct marketing to the customer, but the service must disclose to the customer that the customer may remove his or her name.
Currently, a Pandora user’s profile page displays to the public the username, a daily history of tracks played, the stations the user created, and the users’ likes and bookmarks. The plaintiffs allege that Pandora’s unilateral integration with Facebook resulted in the public exposure of Pandora profiles in association with users’ real names listed on Facebook, despite users’ attempts to remain anonymous by using pseudonymous e-mail addresses and/or usernames.
Netflix is facing a similar legal battle, and other content providers continue to integrate with Facebook. I can see the last track my friend listened to on MOG by looking at her Facebook page, and I am too scared to “Connect to Facebook” through Spotify. I may be proud of my stellar musical taste, but given Facebook’s live newsfeed, I am not thrilled at the prospect of my friends and acquaintances knowing exactly when I’m rocking out to my “running” playlist or listening to “Jolene” on repeat. On the other hand, social integration allows content providers to capitalize on network externalities, adds value for users, and provides endorsements from trustworthy sources–your friends!–for content owners.
Will services listen to their users’ pleas for privacy, or should the law curb the continual pushing of the privacy envelope? Will users alter their behavior in the face of feared public scrutiny? Will they adapt to and eventually accept the diminishing possibility of anonymity?
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