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WTF may be the Video Privacy Protection Act?

A law passed in the Blockbuster era is posing a potential threat to todays streaming ad market.

The Video Privacy Protection Act was already the foundation for lawsuits filed against HBO Max and Hulu. Even though the laws restrictions round the sharing of what folks watch seems somewhat innocuous in age ads aimed predicated on peoples private information like their locations and shopping habits, the VPPAs text could possibly be coupled with a broadening definition of private information to rein in targeted advertising.

So a lot of what we do from an advertising perspective is underpinning by helping [to] target, helping [to] understand. And today heres this old law that has been literally the Blockbuster law, yet its being put on an extremely different digital space, said one streaming executive.

WTF may be the Video Privacy Protection Act?

The VPPA is really a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 1988 that places restrictions on video providers abilities to reveal what the titles of the videos, like a movie or Television show, a person requested or obtained from the provider in conjunction with the persons name. For instance, a store selling physical copies of movies or theoretically a streaming service is barred from sharing that J. Doe bought, rented or streamed The Dark Knight or ANY OFFICE without J. Does written consent.

If regulations was passed before streaming services were even around, how do it connect with streaming services?

Regulations pertains to video tape providers, which it defines as anyone who rents, sells or delivers prerecorded video cassette tapes or similar audio visual materials. The similar audio visual materials language is what opens up its application to streaming services given that they deliver audio visual materials via the web.

Cases in point: HBO Max and Hulu have faced lawsuits alleging the streamers violated the VPPA. In both cases, the streamers were sued for sharing peoples viewing data with Facebook. Hulu was in a position to beat its lawsuit as the judge ruled that Hulu didn’t connect an individuals identity with their viewing data when sharing both bits of information with Facebook. The lawsuit against HBO Max was filed in March and is ongoing.

Would it not apply to all sorts of streaming services?

The VPPA appears to pretty clearly connect with subscription-based streamers along with those that rent or sell movies and Television shows. Its less clear whether it pertains to free streaming services.

Theres some question on the free space, said Sarah Bruno, partner at lawyer Reed Smith. She added, I havent seen that played out, that is if its a free of charge service does the VPPA not apply?

OK. And so how exactly does the VPPA connect with advertising?

That’s where the problem gets even greyer. The VPPA has an exception for a video provider to talk about the topic matter of the videos a person obtained if the disclosure is for the exclusive usage of marketing goods and services right to the buyer, per the laws text. In cases like this, the video provider wouldn’t normally require a persons consent in advance and would instead should just provide a method for you to definitely opt from the information being shared for this function.

Yeah, subject material sounds just a little vague. Whats which means that?

Oh, subject material just means descriptors like genres and content categories. So a video provider like Netflix couldnt say someone streamed Stranger Things, nonetheless it could say someone streamed a TV drama in the science-fiction category.

But subject material isnt the only real vagary. The exclusive usage of marketing goods and services right to the buyer also leaves some room for interpretation of the exception. Does the usage of directly make reference to the video provider being the main one doing the marketing or even to the marketing being done strictly on the video providers platform? Or does it enable third-party advertisers to utilize this data to market to someone outside the video provider?

When this is drafted, it had been contemplated that it will be the company who’s streaming thats marketing to the buyer different products possibly by using a third-party possibly, Bruno said. However now weve got this downstream usage of data through the ad tech ecosphere that I believe wasnt contemplated at that time. So itll be interesting to observe how limited that exception is.

Therefore the problem is in case a video provider says, Hey advertisers, Ive got a person who watched Stranger Things; who would like to advertise in their mind?

Yes, and some. The problem isnt a video provider saying theyve got someone who watched Stranger Things but saying that J. Doe watched Stranger Things because the VPPA is triggered in case a persons name and address are shared simultaneously because the video title.

Whys a problem?

Because advertisers wish to be in a position to target ads to people watching specific shows or movies also to know which specific shows or movies individuals were watching if they saw a brands ad. It has been my frustration with Hulu because weve been asking Hulu to why don’t we target against specific shows for a long time, however they only give us content categories, said a company executive.

Why do advertisers need to know in case a specific person watched confirmed show or movie? It looks like in case a streaming service were to block peoples names or addresses from being shared, this wouldnt be a concern.

Viewing habits are another data point which can be put into the profile of confirmed person or household. Just as that the ad industry loves to compile audience graphs that group people predicated on how old they are, location and household income, if they watch Yellowstone is another little bit of information that may flesh out advertisers knowledge of them and their interests.

However, compiling these audience graphs requires associating these details having an identifier, like a persons name. This is exactly what would trigger the VPPAs application.

But I thought the ad industry uses other identifiers, like email addresses and IP addresses. Isnt the VPPA only triggered in case a persons name or address oh.

You view it now?

The VPPA was passed when an address just meant someones home address, but today people likewise have email addresses and IP addresses, and these could possibly be considered addresses under VPPA just as that streaming services are believed video providers under VPPA.

Yup. To be clear, its not yet determined if the VPPA considers email addresses and IP addresses to be addressed beneath the law. However, privacy laws just like the California Consumer Privacy Act do consider email addresses and IP addresses to be personally identifiable information.

Furthermore, the VPPA somewhat open-ended definition of PII includes information which identifies an individual as having requested or obtained specific video materials or services from the video tape company, per the written text of regulations. That language seems to leave open the entranceway to a contact address or Ip being the method of identifying see your face and tying them with their video records, which opening is what could have the streaming ad industry on edge given the rise in privacy regulation and legislation.

Theres a question concerning whether that trigger means that the disclosure of these identifiers falls within this is of private information of the VPPA, which may be somewhat of a shift from those older cases which were more limited by traditional private information [such as a persons] name, for instance, Bruno said. Thats why I believe were likely to see some new lawsuits until thats been determined definitively.

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