Does the aggregation, display, and sale of inaccurate information about a person give that person a right to sue even when they have not suffered any actual damages? The US Supreme Court will consider this issue in Spokeo Inc. v Robins.
Spokeo, Inc. (“Spokeo”) is a data aggregator that gathers information about individuals from public sources, including social media and public web sites, but makes no guarantees about the accuracy of the data it provides. Robins, who filed his lawsuit against Spokeo as a class-action, alleges that Spokeo violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act when it provided flawed information about him (i.e. that Spokeo allegedly mis-reported his education marital status, age, and financial status), and that the inaccurate information made it more difficult for him to get a job, to get credit and to obtain insurance. Although Robins admits that he has not actually been harmed by the incorrect information that Spokeo reported, he claims the potential for harm to him exists based on the inaccurate data’s availability to third parties. The legal issue for the Supreme Court to consider in this case is whether a party has standing, under Article III of the US Constitution’s “injury in fact” test”, to bring a claim for violation of a federal statute in the absence of actual damage. The U.S. Solicitor General has taken the position in its amicus brief that “public dissemination of inaccurate personal information…is a form of ‘concrete harm’ that courts have traditionally acted to redress, whether or not the plaintiff can probe some further consequential injury.”
Companies such as Google and Facebook are monitoring this case closely because the outcome may trigger an avalanche of claims based upon inaccurate displays of data about individuals, even when that inaccurate data does not cause any actual harm. A ruling against Spokeo may essentially force web sites and businesses that display or store data regarding individuals to act as guarantors of the accuracy of the data they display or sell. Businesses that store, display, or sell data about third parties should monitor the outcome of this case.