On Monday, a class action lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against Advance Magazine Publishers, Inc., d/b/a Conde Nast (“Conde Nast”), alleging that the magazine publisher sells the personally identifiable information (“PII”) of its customers to third-party “data miners” in violation of Michigan State law. Specifically, the complaint alleges that Conde Nast has violated Michigan’s Video Rental Privacy Act (“VRPA”) prohibition against companies disclosing without permission any record or information concerning a Michigan customer’s purchase of written materials, if the record contains PII. According to the complaint, Conde Nast sold lists containing PII at a rate of approximately $180 per thousand subscribers. The complaint seeks to certify a class of all Michigan residents who had their PII disclosed to third parties by Conde Nast without consent.

Does Selling PII Without Customer Consent Violate Michigan Law?

Conde Naste Sued for Selling Personally Identifiable Information

According to the complaint, the named plaintiff is a Conde Nast magazine subscriber. The plaintiff alleges that he was never provided with written notice that Conde Nast sells its customers’ PII and failed to provide a means of opting-out from such practices. The complaint further alleges that “[c]onsumers can sign up for Conde Nast subscriptions through numerous media outlets . . . . Regardless of how the consumer subscribes, Conde Nast never requires the individual to read or agree to any terms of service, privacy policy, or information-sharing policy.” This practice, according to the complaint, violates Michigan’s VRPA.

The VRPA, passed in or about 1988, states in part that: “a person, or an employee or agent of the person, engaged in the business of selling at retail, renting, or lending books or other written materials . . . shall not disclose to any person, other than the customer, a record or information concerning the purchase . . . of those materials by a customer that indicates the identity of the customer.” The complaint seeks to enjoin Conde Nast from violating that provision of the VRPA, as well as disgorgement of all profits made by Conde Nast from the sale of customer PII or $5,000.00 per class member, whichever is greater. Conde Nast must respond to the complaint next month.

Protect Yourself

The class action complaint filed against Conde Nast alleges that it sold customer PII without disclosing such practices in its terms of service or privacy policy, and did not make an information sharing policy available to prospective and existing subscribers. While laws regulating the sale of PII may vary from state to state, providing conspicuous disclosures and obtaining consumer prior express informed consent before selling such data is always a must.