HGTV faces a class action suit about sharing data with Facebook via the "Facebook pixel." The Facebook pixel is a piece of code that many website operators use for tracking and ad-targeting purposes. It has become an issue for heightened privacy focus in the wake of privacy legislation in California and elsewhere that prohibits "selling" user data to third parties unless they have a chance to opt out. There is some question whether use of the pixel, which shares data from the website with Facebook, constitutes a sale.
The HGTV suit is different, however. It relies on a thirty-year-old law to claim that HGTV shares video-viewing behavior about newsletter subscribers with Facebook. The law in question was passed in the late 1980s Blockbuster heyday to regulate sharing of video rental data, after a Supreme Court nominee's video rental records were the target of investigation.
Why It Matters
Privacy regulation is not receding any time soon, and neither are plaintiffs' lawyers looking for a privacy claim. The use of the Facebook pixel and similar analytics/tracking tools is extremely common on the internet. Many companies that don't actually sell or share meaningful data with third parties could unknowingly fall afoul of the privacy legislation that is growing across the country. We recommend that all companies that use the Facebook pixel, Google Analytics, and similar offerings check to be sure they understand how the tools are implemented, and choose the privacy-friendly implementation when possible, to avoid accidental privacy violations.