Closeted Lesbian Sues Netflix For Potential Outing

Here’s the problem with anonymized data: if it were truly anonymized, it wouldn’t be useful to anyone for anything. With enough data about a person–say, their age, gender, and zip code–it’s not hard to narrow down who someone is. That’s the idea behind a class-action lawsuit against Netflix regarding the customer data they released to the public as part of the Netflix Prize project, a contest to help create better movie recommendations. A closeted lesbian alleges that the data available about her could reveal her identity.

Thursday’s suit argues that the information is personal data protected by Netflix’s privacy policy, and that NetFlix should have known that people would be able to identify users based on that data alone. In fact, just two months before NetFlix launched the contest, AOL released “anonymized” search-engine logs, which reporters quickly used to track down real people.

So it wasn’t surprising that just weeks after the contest began, two University of Texas researchers — Arvind Narayanan and Vitaly Shmatikov — identified several NetFlix users by comparing their “anonymous” reviews in the Netflix data to ones posted on the Internet Movie Database website. Revelations included identifying their political leanings and sexual orientation.

The complaint calls that the Brokeback Mountain factor, arguing that marketers will suck up the data, combine it with other data sets and start pigeon-holing people into marketing categories, based on assumptions about the movies they rated.

You could just not post movie reviews online. Still, if you’re a Netflix customer, are you comfortable with potentially identifying data floating out there? It seems that there are larger and scarier privacy fish to fry in our everyday lives.

The suit asks for at least $2,500 in damages for two million Netflix customers, or five billion dollars.

Netflix Spilled Your Brokeback Mountain Secret, Lawsuit Claims [Wired]

Researches Claim To Reverse Netflix’s Anonymization


Edit Your Comment

  1. ConsumerWolf says:

    “It seems that there are larger and scarier privacy fish to fry in our everyday lives.”

    Really Consumerist? With the number of violent crimes against gays increasing, is it really such a good idea to help bigots identify their next victim? What could be “larger and scarier” then ending up the next Matthew Shepard because Netflix gave away your data.

    • dantsea says:

      We should also think about the children!

      • ConsumerWolf says:

        No, we should think about the people who could lose their jobs or be killed because Netflix gave out data they shouldn’t have. Ass.

        • dantsea says:

          And the children! Don’t forget the children! OH GOD WON’T SOMEONE -PLEASE- THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN?

        • Chuck Norris' wig says:

          I hate to break it to you but there aren’t groups of Droogs out there going on hunter-killer missions looking for the gays. And you can’t loose your job because you’re gay either. Get a grip, sweetie.

          • katstermonster says:

            You can’t lose your job because you’re gay, but you can lose your job for reasons your boss burrows out or makes up after he/she finds out you’re gay.

            For the record, I agree with Laura that there are much bigger things to be worried about. Just needed to point out that equal rights for gays are a myth in many places.

            • fantomesq says:

              Right but very few can claim to have lost their job for having rented a particular movie – which is what we’re talking about here.

          • Rhyss says:

            Not all states protect you from descrimination because of sexual oreintation in jobs or housing. That is definitely not a given.

            • BytheSea says:

              Federal protection from discrimination really doesn’t mean shit when you can get fired for “not fitting in to the corporate culture.” Or they can use hostile tactics to make your job so miserable you quit, which is nearly impossible to prove in court. Or they can pass you over for a promotion or raise for twenty years and you waste your life.

          • friday3 says:

            WRONG! There is currently no federal protection for gays from losing their job. Some localities and states do, but the vast majority do not.

          • RandomHookup says:

            Remember “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”?

          • tbax929 says:

            This is where you’re wrong. I just lost my job, and it’s my firm belief I lost it because word got out about my sexuality. Even though my boss had no concrete “proof” that I’m gay, she fired me for a bullshit reason. I’m now suing for wrongful termination and also to get my severance pay, which I was denied.

            People are routinely fired for being anything outside the norm. If you think they’re not, you are sadly misinformed.

        • supercereal says:

          Did you forget to put on your tin foil hat today?

          But in all seriousness, you’re either crazy, paranoid, or just stupid. I tried to think of more friendly terms to describe your line of commenting here, but couldn’t find one that was appropriate. It’s ludicrous to immediately jump from “access to semi-private data about something as meaningless as movie preferences” to “Netflix wants to kill all teh gays!!111” The post is spot on here, there are much, much, much more important concerns here that aren’t a part of your fairy tale world.

        • katstermonster says:

          Your tinfoil hat is DEFINITELY on too tight that no jokes can permeate its layers…

      • CaptZ says:

        OH the Huge Manateeh

    • dreamsneverend says:

      Have any hard data to back up your claims of increased hate crimes? Or better yet the use of this type of data to hunt someone particularly because of their sexual orientation?

      What an overblown, alarmist comment.. this is type of “cry wolf” issue that makes people numb to the clear and present dangers that face us when it comes to privacy.

      What we do in our personal lives should remain anonymous if we chose to keep it that way as long as it doesn’t cause harm to people who cannot aptly defend themselves against it.

      • AwesomeJerkface says:

        Uhm, will the NY Times do? What about the FBI crime reports? Maybe the Southern Poverty Law Center? Is that hard enough data for you? Since Google isn’t part of your internet skills, I’ve provided some links:

        Quite frankly, I don’t think ConsumerWolf is implying that strangers are out there hunting anonymous gays down, but since you’re clearly not a gay person in a social setting of homophobes, let me paint you a scenario:

        “Jane Doe works at Acme Co. Her supervisor is a bigot. Her co-workers aren’t. She has a rival who wants her job. Rival discovers she’s gay and presents bigoted boss with info. Jane is fired for being late.”

        I made that up, but if you knew enough gays surrounded by homophobes (let’s say 40-somethings and older) they probably could explain how that was a very real fear for them.

        I can think of dozens of other people who would act accordingly to their bigotry if they had confirmation that you belong to one of their hated groups:

        – Friends
        – Neighbors
        – Church parishioners
        – Parents (hey, mine kicked me out!)
        – Coworkers

        You’re right. There isn’t hard data to back up claims of all acts of bigotry when you come out of the closet, but having straight (or any major group) privileges really helps cloak the overall needs of a minority group.

        • dreamsneverend says:

          AwesomeJerkface – thank you for the links and I’ll keep this short with a question: Do you think crimes have gone UP because of better reporting or people really becoming more hateful?

          I still think ConsumerWolf’s alarmist attitude is part of problem and I lump it in with the other people who are on the fringe of zealotry for their own beliefs.

        • RickN says:

          You know all three of those links pointed at the same report? It’s not like it’s a bunch of different studies all reporting the same phenomena.

          Did the increase in the report come from an actual increase in crime, a change in how crime data is collected, a change in how police departments are reporting, or a change in what is considered a hate crime? For example, now that Obama has signed legislation expanding what is defined as a hate crime, next year hate crimes will go up, regardless of whether any additional crimes actually occur. Statistics — the devil’s in the details.

        • pot_roast says:

          Keep in mind that what is a “hate crime” has become a very broad definition. Two guys fighting. One uses a racial slur. Bam, hate crime. Guy uses a term that mentions sexual orientation. BAM. Hate crime.

          The articles noted that hate crimes based on sexual orientation were up 11% and religion 9%.

      • David in Brasil says:

        I agree 100%. Nothing anti-gay here, but I’m definitely against throwing out blanket statements such as “with violence against gays increasing”… you have data to back that up? I mean data from North America, where Netflix operates? (I hear that things are pretty sucky in Africa right now)

        As they say, “you are entitled to your own opinions, you are not entitled to your own facts”.

    • Laura Northrup says:

      That’s a big leap between “someone CAN determine my identity” and “someone WILL determine my identity and hunt me down.”

      • AwesomeJerkface says:

        There’s a huge leap for that, but it’s a tiny step for someone you know to research you and discover info.

        Ever Google yourself? Ever search under interests and someone you know pops up? Ever hear of people being fired because of their Facebook accounts?

        Yes, we all should be careful about the info we’re posting, but it’s a different matter when you’re told your info will be 100% anonymous, and then it’s not.

        Violating your own privacy policy = poor practice.

        • fantomesq says:

          Googling someone and or searching for them in FaceBook requires their name. Netflix’s release of anonymized data allows none of these.

      • fantomesq says:

        This is actually a remarkably tenuous case. How are they going to show that their particular plaintiff has standing to sue? How do they intend to prove that the (details made up) 29 year old female living in 20235 is actually their plaintiff? Assuming they can identify the plaintiff from the data, did releasing anonymized data breach their duty? What damages did she suffer? Potential damages are not sufficient. Was releasing the data the actual cause of those damages?

        At minimum this is a serious uphill battle.

      • jesusofcool says:

        At minimum ConsumerWolf is being alarmist, as usual.
        a) it sucks but she posted the info on the internet knowing it could become public knowledge. But if Netflix doesn’t already, it would be nice if they offered some way for users to delete all data/posts associated with their account name.
        b) I agree that it’s a huge leap from “someone could use this info to create marketing profiles” to “someone could use this info to discriminate against or violently hurt someone based on their racial or sexual identity.” If someone is sick enough to do something like that, unfortunately, there are easier ways to find a victim.

    • Brazell says:

      Uhh… it’s a really big leap to take that marketing data is going to turn into hate crimes against homosexuals.

    • Cant_stop_the_rock says:

      If I wanted to find a homosexual I could just go to the local gay bar rather than go through the effort of finding them via netflix ratings.

      • Firethorn says:

        I agree. It’d take a pretty dedicated search to match up the lady’s preferences with her.

        Heck, that brings up a different issue – the only way they ID’d people was via their IMDB ratings. If she’s so ‘in the closet’, you’d think she wouldn’t be reviewing whatever movie viewing habits she has that would reveal her sexual presences, at least not sufficiently to match up her netflix account with the IMDB account.

        That brings up another issue – netflix doesn’t rent porn, and while I’m not an expert, do they even rent videos that would mark her as gay?

        Basically, it seems to be like using your purchasing habits at Amazon to track down your library account to see what library books you’ve read. More information is available with the Amazon information than what the library can give.

    • Danj3ris says:

      I understand where ConsumerWolf is coming from and I’m surprised other commenter’s labeled the comment as alarmist. The scenario is entirely probable no matter how slim the chance may be.

      I believe the issue lies with Laura Northrup’s line: “It seems that there are larger and scarier fish to fry in our everyday lives.”

      This line can be interpreted in a couple of ways. One way suggests that The Consumerist understands the Netflix user’s claim and acknowledges that this indeed shows that there are even more ways your private life can be made into common knowledge, and you should be aware of this fact.

      Another way suggests that The Consumerist thinks this case about a closeted lesbian’s fears of her privacy not being protected is unimportant when worse things could happen like one’s identity is stolen, or a website has tricked you into revealing your password to your bank accounts. It not only belittles the Netflix user’s case, but belittles her right to privacy, which the Supreme Court has established is a basic human right. It falls under Amendment 9 of the U.S. Constitution also.

      Based on the second interpretation, and with a little bit of “leaping” to conclusions, suddenly it seems that The Consumerist thinks that the privacy of a homosexual is less important than the privacy of anyone else.

    • Bohemian says:

      This really is not that alarmist, especially in certain parts of the country. Being outed could result in job loss, property damage or violence against your person. Even in many rural areas there are plenty of tolerant and more enlightened people but some of the really looney types out there feel emboldened. There is still a mindset that this backwards ultra-conservative religious clique runs an area and can do whatever they want to people.

      Now combine this kind of crap with someone already having a chip on their shoulder against another person. This kind of information in the hands of someone using a certain mindset as an excuse for their anti-social behavior and an existing motivation against someone is a recipe for a big problem.

    • DrLumen says:

      This suit is absolute garbage! I worked on the Netflix prize for a while and you could not get a more anonymous data set. This whole premise of the personal information being made ‘available’ has to be run through IMDB, or some other data set, to get some type of name or ID. Other than a number to represent a person (out of like 16 million records) there was no way to specifically identify anyone.

      If this person is worried about being outted they shouldn’t be posting their sexual preferences and names on IMDB. Plus, if they are openly ‘out’ or gay, or whatever the PC term is, on IMDB why do they care about some one MAYBE linking them to a netflix rating?

      Utter BS!

      • jenjenjen says:

        I doubt violence is the biggest risk here. Here’s an example: Virginia’s new governor just removed previous governors’ orders prohibiting the state from discriminating against gays. So I’m guessing there are a whole bunch of state workers or job applicants who would very much not like to be outed when they may not have thought it was a problem before. Safety doesn’t mean just not getting killed – it means your livelihood too.

    • bdgbill says:

      Bull. First of all, the lawsuit itself is far more likely to “out” this woman than the Netflix data ever was.

      Second, violence against gay women is a big problem in the US? I haven’t heard about it.

      • AnonymousCoward says:

        Actually, yeah, violence against lesbians is a big problem, although I’m not sure someone would go to the trouble to find a closeted Lesbian to attack in the Netflix database. A bigger problem is Lesbian moms who have custody problems. The fathers often use the mom’s sexual orientation as ammunition in the custody battle.

        Obviously, the woman probably has a bigger chance of being outed by the lawsuit than by her Netflix ratings, but she’s probably not the only closeted Lesbian mom in their database.

  2. dantsea says:

    Wait. You mean to tell me if I post content to the Internet, it might be seen or used by other people?

    • the_wiggle says:

    • myrna_minkoff says:

      It’s shocking but true.

      Of course, people still want to post stuff online, but this is why different user names for different sites is a good idea — just for starters.

      • Brazell says:

        I think Dantsea was being sarcastic.

        Rule #1 on the internet.. anythign you write, say, or do is public… even when it pretends not to be public. Stalking people is so ridiculously easy these days.

    • Mr. Kelly R. Flewin says:

      Funny thing is, I actually had someone whom recognized me from something I wrote wayyyyyyyy back in 2002 on a mailing group. It was actually pretty cool as we had a great half hour conversation.

      Mind you, 5 minutes later, it did click in…. wow, that coulda been a LOT worse then it was!

    • jesusofcool says:

      One reason why I wish sites with message boards, including Consumerist, had an option to log in and delete all user history/content. There are lots of message boards I used to post to under a different username or posted to many years ago and I do occasionally wish there was an option to delete all history…once the data becomes obsolete…kind of like how I deleted my ancient myspace a few weeks ago.

      • Smashville says:

        You actually can. You can revoke the license of the website to host your words.

        You may think I’m completely full of shit, but I’ve seen it done on Wikipedia and it’s a nightmare to clean up.

  3. trujunglist says:

    so the problem is really people writing the same reviews on two websites, but I don’t understand why rating a G&L flick positively means you’re gay, or reviewing and liking some left leaning film makes you a socialist.

    • katstermonster says:

      Tell that to the HUAC.

      I’m kidding, I actually agree with you. I’m just trying to point out that yes, interests and affiliations have been used to wrongly profile and persecute people. On a really large scale, in fact. It’s not entirely unheard of.

    • veronykah says:

      By that token, Netflix must think I’m a foreign born gay man…

    • seegull says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Another example: I clicked the Amazon link in the article about the nude calendar accidentally being sold at Wal-Mart. I was logged into Amazon, so guess where that data went. Does that mean I’m gay? Maybe to it does to Amazon and anyone who views my profile, but I’m not hiding from the bigots.

    • Smashville says:

      What’s the Deniro movie where he’s friends with the drag queen? I found out I was one of very few straight people to see that…does seeing it, therefore, make me gay?

      I’m with you…rating a movie doesn’t make you gay.

  4. RandomHookup says:

    Is this like the guy we always suspected since HS was gay, but won’t put his orientation on Facebook and plays the “pronoun game”, while listing his favorite movie as “But I’m A Cheerleader” and his favorite singers as Melissa Ethridge, Cher and Adam Lambert?

    • Dracoster says:

      What’s not to like about a movie about hot teenage lesbians with quirky humor?

    • tbax929 says:

      Why do you need to suspect someone is gay? Unless you’re planning to date them, it’s none of your damn business.

      • frodolives35 says:

        Do you live in the real world?

        • Dondegroovily says:

          What do you mean, do you live in the real world? Or you trying to imply that everyone needs to know who’s gay? And if so, one good reason.

      • RandomHookup says:

        Sometimes you just want people to be honest with you (and with the world). It’s like the guy I interviewed years ago with P-FLAG on his resume and a shared answering machine message with another man (in a very homey kinda way). He kept mentioning how he had moved to Austin with someone special, but he wouldn’t use a definite pronoun. When you are already out, it makes the process less awkward. You aren’t fooling many people and you’ll make those uncomfortable with the concept deal with it face-to-face.

        I realize there are times to be closeted, but at least let some people in or you’ll suffocate.

      • RandomHookup says:

        Nay, that’s a personal matter, but there is a point at which you aren’t doing a very good job of hiding.

  5. Optimistic Prime says:

    Not to sound stupid, but doesn’t suing someone put you out there in the public record?

  6. Chuck Norris' wig says:

    Much to do about nothing really.

    If this is a concern to you then you need to adjust your chinstrap on your tinfoil hat.

    And also, grow a spine and tell the nosy people you are hiding from in life to mind their own goddamn business. It’s quite liberating, trust me.

    • AwesomeJerkface says:

      Except when you’re fired or they pummel you.

      Telling someone to leave you alone when they’re asking you if you’re a fa–got isn’t always, uh, “liberating”.

      • Chuck Norris' wig says:

        Read the news lately?

        Homosexuality is an EEO protected class. They pull any shit at your worksite, you own them.

        As far as getting “pummelled”, again it’s a protected class against hate crimes. They go to prison for it like any other battery and get a little extra time to boot.

        It’s not 1955, wise up.

        • tbax929 says:

          Good luck funding that lawsuit against them while you lose everything you have. Do you think you can just make a statement that you were fired unjustly and then collect a check? It costs money to hire an attorney and sue a company. People go broke doing it.

          Really, your comments are just ridiculously stupid. Maybe you should wait for an issue to arise that you actually know something about.

        • Caskey says:

          Are you serious about your comments? So if someone is going to get hate-crimed, they should just sit back and take a serious beating knowing that at least the person is going to get in trouble? Broken limbs and massive head trauma that can cause a lifetime of pain and suffering is fine as long as the person goes to jail.

          They’re trying to avoid the issues before it happens. Just because you have the right to sue if you get fired doesn’t mean you should go ahead and let it happen. Something like that can be difficult to prove and can cost time and money both in legal fees and lost wages. It’s a lot better if you just don’t get fired and save the hassle.

    • katstermonster says:

      And what if this closeted lesbian is in the military?

  7. monzo says:

    This lawsuit is not going to happen. At least I hope it doesn’t.

  8. CTAUGUST says:

    This is a good reason why I don’t EVER give a company a free rating of a movie, music CD or product I have purchased. The only reviews I would ever consider are ones where I am compensated for contributing to the value of the site with my opinion, which almost never happens.

    • Firethorn says:

      Well, rating movies with Netflix helps netflix recommend movies you’re more likely to, well, like. So there’s added value there.

      From my readings, the only cases of positive identification resulted from comparing IMDB reviews with the review database – the identity of the individual came from their(presumably extensive) IMDB reviews, not the netflix ones.

      Not doing reviews, anonymous or not, on IMDB, my netflix data remains confidential.

      Now, on the followon challange – that includes age, sex, and zip, I’d be part of the 86% that can be ID’d. My zip isn’t that big, there’s a good chance that I’m the only guy my age in the area that subscribes to netflix as I’m not part of the standard age groups. They tend older.

      I’ve seen some datasets where they’ll only release information on a zip code if there’s more than X(X>5) compatible datasets. IE if there’s not at least 6 40 year old females in a given zip, they don’t give it out.

  9. ninabi says:

    Someone COULD lose their job over this, if that closeted person was in the military.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      Nah-uh! He said right after his first act of overturning the ban on Federal Funding for embryonic stem cell research, he said he was going to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. And it’s been almost a year.

  10. sven.kirk says:

    Flag for review

    You are MORE targeted by your local grocery store than anything else.
    With ANY store, you must give up some privacy for convenience/discounts.

    But the real worry should about this.
    Flag for review

    You are MORE targeted by your local grocery store than anything else.
    With ANY store, you must give up some privacy for convenience/suggestions/discounts.

    But the real worry should about this.

  11. myrna_minkoff says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but they were only able to identify people when they had the Netflix data AND data from other sites not controlled by Netflix, right? So how is Netflix to blame?

    If I post “private” info on this site, and then link it to, say, my personal blog which gives my real name and location, I can hardly blame Consumerist for not guarding my privacy.

    Or am I misunderstanding something?

  12. ZoeyP says:

    Actually, less than half of the states prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation. So theoretically at least, yes, she could be fired.

  13. Taed says:

    “A closeted lesbian alleges that the data available about her could reveal her identity.” I would think that by bringing a lawsuit that one’s identity is revealed a million times faster than a random data online that no one would bother checking to find information about a particular individual. It’s the “Barbra Streisand effect” ( once again. Perhaps that’s actually the point and she’s not actually “closeted” and is either making a political or artistic statement.

    I predict that she’s outed (in both senses of the word) due to the lawsuit within a week of it being settled.

  14. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    my sexuality is fairly public so that’s not something i’m worried about.

    but if a bookstore/library revealed i purchased/checkout a manual for my vehicle, that narrows down what car i drive.

    if netflix posts ‘other users in your area liked _movie x_’ and someone clicks on it and sees my review then the area i live in might be potentially public or give someone a starting place to look.

    with that, [if i can do it, you can too] the county’s tax records databased could be searched for someone with my model car who matches what you think my name is. or if you KNOW my name because you’re the guy who has been harassing me since high school, then you could easily find my tax records and get my mailing address for my tax records. now you have a pretty good idea of where i can be found.

    when google maps satellite imaging catches up to when i moved to my new house, you could confirm this by seeing that model of car in my driveway without even having to go to my house.

    i try not to spend my life being paranoid but when i had to move 9 times in a year because above mentioned guy kept being found asleep on my doorstep waiting for me to come out of the house so he could follow me to work…..

    yeah, i’m not ok with this sort of data being out there

    • dantsea says:

      And if a nuclear-tipped turkey wandered out of the feedyard and crashed into a water tank, an entire town might get radiation poisoning. We better prepare for it.

      • MostlyHarmless says:

        Sooo… your response to an _ACTUAL_ case is to snarkily suggest an impossible one. Good job. 10/10 for trolling. Minus several hundred million for being a fucking person.

      • katstermonster says:

        How clever of you, to take a logical and TRUE scenario, and make a mockery of it using a…..radioactive turkey. You’re really a winner. In addition to catastrophegirl’s stalker, I’d like to beat YOU up for being a moron.

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          hehe, fortunately, as far as i know, he doesn’t know my new address YET. google maps still shows the previous owner’s car, i’m in a different state since he last followed me in person, and he last contacted me in february – i moved in june.
          but i worry about it happening like that.
          he used to just go around and ask all my friends if they knew where i worked/lived. then when they knew better, he’d have friends of my friends who didn’t know why he was asking to ask my friends.
          eventually i got all my friends used to saying “if you want to talk to her, give me YOUR info and i’ll pass it on”
          i can’t tell the internet to do that though, so it does worry me when there’s that much info out there for the public.

          • ShadowFalls says:

            Isn’t that what restraining orders are for?

            • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

              sort of. i talked to the cops about that once. he has never made an actual threat to me, toward me, toward any immediate family members.
              the police said that in those circumstances what usually happens is that a restraining order or harassment charges [which would get him locked up overnight in the state we both used to live in] – makes the harasser mad and causes them to take a violent action in retaliation.
              and at this point he doesn’t know where i live, as far as i know. a restraining order would actually provide him with enough detail to track me down. like what state/county it’s issued from.

        • RecordStoreToughGuy_RidesTheWarpOfSpaceIntoTheWombOfNight says:

          If we’re lucky, that turkey will only kill a newly-turned member of the Black Court that’s trying to kill us at the time.

          Good luck figuring that reference out, BTW.


    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      Can I beat him up? I hate that shit.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      I know your name, but I was only napping on your doorstep, not sleeping. :)

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        you wouldn’t fit on my doorstep. also, my doorstep has spiders. but it’s ok, i know where to send your restraining order

    • Firethorn says:

      Crazy stuff, to be sure. I’m stuck in that I want to help, but being anonymous on the internet, advice would be all I could offer, and I’m not familiar enough with the situation to make any advice.

      I’d argue that Google Maps/tax records/etc are a lot more privacy encroaching than Netflix ratings. Personally, I’ve only ever done the 1-5 stars thing.

      Back on topic, in order to be ‘outed’, wouldn’t she have to have rented(and rated) a bunch of LGBT videos, combined with being about the only female of her age in the zip code that rents netflix?

      Did the netflix data set even include zip code data? According to the website, no, it doesn’t contain it – – MovieId, CustomerID, Rating(1-5), Title, YearOfRelease, Date(of rating).

      Without Zip to narrow it down, I don’t see how she has anything to stand on.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        the next set of netflix data for the second contest is supposed to include zipcode data and the suit is trying to block that also.

        • Firethorn says:

          Yeah, but it’s seeking large amounts of damages for many people who just don’t care for the current one, which is relatively difficult to un-anonymize.

          On the other one, I forgot to mention it, but you can put the age in as well with the zip, but you’d have to restrict the released information to where there’s more than one with that information. Preferably more than 5.

          IE If there’s not at least 6 40 year old women in zip 90210 that subscribes with netflix, none of their information gets released.

  15. Cecil says:

    And you can’t loose your job because you’re gay either.

    No, you’re not *supposed* to lose your job because you’re gay. Big difference.

    • sonneillon says:

      In most states you can say I am firing you because your gay. This is an employ at will state and you are not a protected class. We have attorneys on staff and since we pay them anyways having them fight you doesn’t cost us anything, so even if you do sue us it will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and there is a good chance you won’t get a judgment.

      It’s unfortunate but can be done.

  16. camman68 says:

    Do some research. In most states, employees can be fired solely for being gay.

    Trust me, I know. I have been fired for being gay!

    • RickN says:

      In most states you can be fired for being a redhead, or having size 11 feet, or wearing a red shirt. As a part of all three non-protected groups, I am watching what I do at work today.

    • Winteridge2 says:

      People can also be fired for being fat, ugly, old, male/female, white, lazy, rude, too short, too tall: who needs a reason?

  17. friday3 says:

    I have some major issues of filing a suit like this, when she voluntarily gave up the information. I have another problem in the fact she is in the closet. If she wins a suit that finding out somebody is gay is a BAD thing, it makes being gay bad. Ask yourself of the suit has any merit based on changing one detail; the information discovered. Say somebody found out she was Jewish, or republican.
    The fact remains there is no right to exercise your free speech in a review, then want to claim nobody can know who you are. The other fact that irks the shit out of me, is how does the movie you rent “out” you. If I watched the movie “21” or “rounders” does that make me a gambler If I watch the Hugh Grant And Sarah Jessica Parker movie out now, does that make me straight I don’t think so. Get over it and tell this woman its time to come out and grow up. Closets are for clothes.

    • JiminyChristmas says:

      Get over it and tell this woman its time to come out and grow up. Closets are for clothes.

      What an incredibly immature comment. Maybe after reading some of the other comments here you can see that outing oneself or being outed can have serious consequences. Yes, being gay is not “bad” but there are many, many places in this country where identifying oneself as gay or lesbian will not be met with acceptance and understanding.

      Sexual orientation is not a protected status in most places, which means people are free to discriminate. (Unlike your example of ‘Jewish’ since religion is a protected class.) She could be fired from her job. Someone could refuse to rent her an apartment. In both cases she would have no legal recourse.

      Most importantly, if you read the linked Wired article you learn that the woman is a parent. What if the child is the product of an earlier hetero relationship? If the father were so inclined, discovery of the mother’s sexual orientation would be ample grounds to revisit custody arrangements in court. You would be deluding yourself if you thought there weren’t jurisdictions where being a lesbian would pose a big problem in family court.

      Yes, it’s unfortunate that some people feel they have to hide their sexual orientation. That said, I don’t expect anyone to sacrifice their job, home or child in the name of GLBT solidarity.

      • friday3 says:

        As a gay man, I can speak a little bit more on this than most. I have no patience for those who live in the closet and allow gays to be discriminated against. THEY are the reason there is no ENDA. The problem IS all the cowards who want to benefit from the struggles of others while sitting around renting movies from Netflix. If you want to be that closeted, then dont rent gay themed films. By the way, if I hear one more bullshit item about FOR THE KIDS, I am gonna vomit. If she is a lesbian and she lies to her kids she actually deserves to lose the child. It is lying and deceiving your child.

        • kujospam says:

          I’m not gay, but I strongly agree. If you are not willing to risk in dieing for what you believe for America is not for you. Now I’m not saying you should have to die, but if all you are going to do is hide then all you have is shame. If the community would come out instead of hiding I’m sure change can more swiftly go there way.

          • tbax929 says:

            And how do you expect us to support ourselves as we lose our jobs for being gay? Who is going to fund this so-called fight that needs to happen, in your opinion? Those of you insisting no one live in the closet have clearly never been in a situation in which you could lose everything – things you’re not willing to lose – just for being who you are. Until you’ve walked in a mile in our shoes, don’t tell us what we should and shouldn’t do.

        • tbax929 says:

          As a gay woman, I couldn’t disagree with you more. It’s not your place to tell someone whether or not they should be out of the closet. Since I lost my job despite my effort to remain in the closet, I’ve made a conscious decision not to remain closeted at my new job. However, the consequences for being gay can be career-altering, and even fatal. It’s not your job to judge others. You seem to fail to see the hypocrisy in doing so.

          My ex-girlfriend was a school teacher who absolutely would have lost her job if her sexuality were discovered. For her, her career was more important to her than the need to be out of the closet. She’s still closeted, and I completely respect that. Is it wrong that she has to be? Yes. But that’s the world we live in.

          Also, I’m not willing to die for my sexuality. If you are – more power to you.

    • kuhjäger says:

      actually, I can tell you are a gambler because you picked those two movies. They show up as the first two picks under “gambling dramas” under the netflix queue

  18. Blinkman987 says:

    Guess she shouldn’t give up personal information through movie reviews, or she could just not use Netflix. There seems to be many ways this customer can prevent their own outing by simply not posing reviews that people aren’t going to read or care about anyway.

    • katstermonster says:

      No. No. NO. This is not a “how to avoid getting fucked” website, this is a “how to keep companies from fucking us” website. If you were looking for the former, may I suggest something a little more your style, perhaps Perez Hilton? Consumers should not have to avoid companies (especially when said company has a virtual monopoly on a particular good or service) to avoid getting screwed over. We should hold companies responsible for their treatment of customers. Posting movie reviews should not be abnormal or dangerous. Someone should be able to do so in relative anonymity.

      • ej84 says:

        kastermonster, you are *so* right! I am continually amazed at how few of those making comments on the Consumerist site seem to understand this.

      • tbax929 says:

        Thank you for this! I’m stunned at the number of people who regularly come to this site and still don’t understand this.

      • fantomesq says:

        And shouldn’t Netflix be able to solicit contractors to improve their recommendation engine and improve their business? Maybe some sort of NDA would have been appropriate (Do we know if there was one?) but this appears to really be a mountain out of a molehill. The plaintiff suffered no harm and even the plaintoff appears to concede that no actual harm can be attributed to the defendant’s actions of releasing anonymized data, so there really is no case here.

        • Slave For Turtles says:

          I’m familiar with the data set. There was no NDA that I recall. The data was organized by movie ID number. Within each set of movie ID data, there were user ID numbers, their review value, and the date. Could an ordinary person look at all the data (which is HUGE) and figure things out? No, absolutely not. Could someone clever with knowledge of data mining and correlation figure it out? Very easily, so very, VERY easily.

          I really do feel sorry for anyone who thought they were keeping everything private except for their mere ranking of a given movie, but it just isn’t realistic in today’s data mining society. Seriously, all they did was rank a movie. Hell of a crime. :-(

        • katstermonster says:

          I actually don’t know how I feel about the lawsuit itself. You may notice that I’m playing devil’s advocate all over this article. I really hate when people use absolutes in reference to anything (i.e. you can NEVER lose your job for being gay, when clearly…you can).

          That being said, my issue with this comment was really the attitude that “well, if a consumer doesn’t like something, he or she should go away and no longer spend money on this company.” I think it’s a pretty reasonable request that there should be some sort of warning to go along with the review portion of the website, like hey, these are public, as is other demographic type information. As Slave for Turtles pointed out, someone should be able to rate a movie without his/her personal information being public.

  19. Chargeback says:

    This is nothing more than a CS lawsuit with no merit.

  20. Dacker says:

    “…the data available about her could reveal her identity.”

    That’s could, as in, there is a potential.

    In other words, there has been no harm, no foul, and no grounds for a lawsuit.

  21. Dracoster says:

    Consumerist, there’s a difference between being a closetgay and having a private life.

    • echovictorecho says:

      Really? There’s a difference between a corporation knowing whom you like to have sex with and having a private life? Pray tell, what is it?

  22. Thora says:

    I’m sorry, but I have to repeat the earlier sentiment of another poster- WAAAAAH!

    I smell a gold-digging lawsuit here. She has no case- SHE posted stuff online that could out her, so I don’t feel sorry for her at all. ANYTHING you post online should be considered public domain. If I have a secret, I’m not gonna go post it on the internet & then cry when someone finds out. If I hate my boss, I’m not gonna go rant about what an asshole he is on Myspace & then sue the company when I get fired. Bottom line- don’t tell your secrets online unless you want people to know them. Movie reviews are VOLUNTARY. Nobody held a gun to her head & forced her to review the incriminating films.

    I totally understand the stalking aspect of it, but seriously- does anyone honestly think some anti-gay militant is gonna go sifting through NETFLIX REVIEWS to find his next victim? Come on now.

    Logically, this is an idiotic suit, and she’s an idiot for outing herself by making this public.

  23. Winteridge2 says:

    So if I wish to remain private and anonymous, I should not post all my personal information and perhaps photos on netflix, facebook, youtube, and all those private-type internet groups? Really? Duhhh!

  24. ohayou_kun says:

    Most people with a bit of sluething skills can identify a person online, via forums, facebook, or any site that reveals ip addresses. Heck with your IP address someone could track down where you live. We are literally all CONNECTED. The only thing thing that supposedly stops hackers and other people from taking data they want is a law. We all know that law isn’t followed. You put yourself on the net, you really don’t own what you put out there. Better to be a little paranoid.

  25. BytheSea says:

    It seems that there are larger and scarier privacy fish to fry in our everyday lives.

    Well, that’s the thing. For people with something to hide, we know not to say on facebook that we’re gay. But we don’t think about not rating all those gay movies we rent on Netflix.

    And for people saying “just come out,” you can still get fired for being gay. They won’t say it’s for being gay, it’s for being three minutes late twice in one week, or for just not fitting in to the company culture.

  26. FrankReality says:

    One thing to remember about lawsuits like this is to consider that the complainant has to provide evidence of actual damages. Second, they will have to prove that there was a reasonable expectation of privacy based on the defendant’s policies (e.g. terms of service) and then prove that the defendants did not make reasonable efforts to uphold that policy.

  27. Slave For Turtles says:

    (I posted some of this somewhere above in reply.) Just to be clear, the Netflix data that was released for the programming contest *cannot* be used to identify individuals ALONE. Please remember that the Netflix users only left a review of X-number of stars. That’s it. That tiny piece of information was released and associated with a user ID #, a movie ID #, and a date. It’s only in conjunction with the reviews left on IMDB that a person’s identity can be revealed. There is nothing inherently wrong with the Netflix data set. It’s only when a skilled data miner CORRELATES it with another data set that more trends and even identification can be gleaned.

    Netflix is having another contest. While the data haven’t been released yet, rumor has it that the data set will include gender, age, and zip code. THAT will be dangerous right on its own.

    Many readers here may also be surprised to know that the $2500 figure is the lowest fine that can be levied for wrongful disclosure of video tape rental or sale records.—-000-.html

  28. Clumber says:

    Am a gay woman, am not closeted. (I gave up trying to do that when I realized I was incapable of keeping my pronouns straight) (ba-da-da!)

    Violence against gay women is still an issue today here in North America. There are still hate crimes against us, we still lose our jobs (raises hand) due to bigotry, we still need to watch our backs in public. Ask a woman, of any orientation, in the US military about bias against gays.

    However, in my humble and often know-nuttin’ opinion, this is not an issue about orientation, and that is a red herring in the story. It doesn’t matter why she is upset that the site violated its own privacy policies. She feels they violated the policy that she agreed to when she signed up for the service. Her recourse options include filing a lawsuit.

    Why is she closeted? None of my, nor your business. This is, however, just as large an issue as any other example of a merchant violating the promises or policies it claims to uphold, and which it requires its users agree to. That should, indeed, be a Consumerist issue.


  29. Clumber says:

    Am a gay woman, am not closeted. (I gave up trying to do that when I realized I was incapable of keeping my pronouns straight) (ba-da-da!)

    Violence against gay women is still an issue today here in North America. There are still hate crimes against us, we still lose our jobs (raises hand) due to bigotry, we still need to watch our backs in public. Ask a woman, of any orientation, in the US military about bias against gays.

    However, in my humble and often know-nuttin’ opinion, this is not an issue about orientation, and that is a red herring in the story. It doesn’t matter why she is upset that the site violated its own privacy policies. She feels they violated the policy that she agreed to when she signed up for the service. Her recourse options include filing a lawsuit.

    Why is she closeted? None of my, nor your business. This is, however, just as large an issue as any other example of a merchant violating the promises or policies it claims to uphold, and which it requires its users agree to. That should, indeed, be a Consumerist issue.


  30. gc3160thtuk says you got your humor in my sarcasm and you say you got your sarcasm in my humor says:

    I’m cool with netflix outing me but with the type of data we are talking about here I don’t think that is possible. That said not everyone is out or is able to be out so they might be a bit paranoid about these things. I work for walmart though and company policy has protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation status. My old company did not so I was more careful then. One day I pray this will no longer be an issue.