Netflix sued for Sex Orientation privacy violations due to recommendations contest

from – Some lucky chaps won a million bucks from Netflix this summer after they tweaked the company’s recommendation algorithm, making the site’s suggestion engine about 10 percent more accurate than it was before.

But that process led to far more than a 10 percent increase in the site’s degree of violation of your privacy, says the plaintiff in a new lawsuit filed over the data used in the contest.

Why so angry? Because the exposure of the raw ratings data could identify the sexual orientation of those who rated the films in question, says the suit. As filed by one anonymous claimant, her family life and job prospects are likely to be impacted because the ratings clearly identify her as a lesbian, and she believes the data could be reverse-engineered to discern her identity.

But the information provided to seed the contest was anonymized, right? That’s true — at least in theory — as no names were attached to the movie ratings used in the process. Netflix has said it protects the identity of its customers, but as we’ve seen in similar cases the past, so-called “anonymous” data may not always be as anonymous as we might think. And in fact, according to Wired, several Netflix users have already been identified by comparing their anonymized ratings to those available on the Internet Movie Database, revealing sexual orientation and political leanings based on their entertainment choices.

It’s hard to tell if Miss Jane Doe has a case here for sure. Without proof that her information was personally compromised (as opposed to all Netflix members in the abstract or even just a handful of them), she probably has an uphill battle to climb. Naturally, she is filing on behalf of all members of the site who rated films in 2006, and seeks $2,500 in damages for each customer. That’s about $5 billion total if you’re keeping score.

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