Judge Says Amazon Must Hand Over Names Of Customers Eligible For WEN Hair Care Settlement

Image courtesy of Chaz Dean

Which is more important to you: keeping your personal data private, or the knowledge that a product you purchased is involved in a settlement that may entitle you to compensation? According to a federal judge, the latter is more beneficial to consumers.

As part of a settlement that resulted from a class-action lawsuit more than 200 customers filed against a company called WEN over a line of hair care products by celebrity stylist Chaz Dean — which allegedly caused hair loss, balding, itching, and rashes — consumers who suffered adverse reactions can claim up to $20,000.

Attorneys for the class wanted to notify shoppers of the settlement, and got a subpoena for Amazon shoppers’ names and contact information. But although QVC, Sephora and Overstock agreed to provide customer data, Amazon refused on privacy grounds, the lawyers said. Amazon is not a party to the settlement.

Amazon filed a motion [PDF] to quash the subpoena in November, arguing that the burdens of providing such information — both to Amazon and its customers, “who have no ability to defend their own privacy interests or make their wishes known” — would “outweigh any minimal value that confidential information might have to Plaintiffs.”

The company says customer privacy and the security of their confidential information is no joke, and that shoppers rely on Amazon’s privacy policies and expect it to keep their personal data safe.

“Plaintiffs’ demand is doubly intrusive because it forces Amazon to violate its customers’ trust, and it invades those customers’ privacy without notice,” the company said in its motion. Amazon adds that the plaintiffs assume customers would rather receive notice of a class action settlement recovery over the security of their personal data, “but that is not a choice that Plaintiffs or this Court have the right to make.”

Judge James L. Robart agreed with the attorneys for the class action, however, who had argued in their response to Amazon’s motion [PDF] that providing such information to asettlement administrator doesn’t violate Amazon’s privacy policy for a few reasons: because it’s compelled by a lawfully issued subpoena; and because the information will only be used to notify customers, not for commercial purposes.

“The request is tailored as narrowly as possible to accomplish the goal of providing notice to individuals that may have sustained serious injuries and will be shared only with a sophisticated settlement administrator who possesses the skill and technical capability of protecting the information,” the response reads.

And while Amazon argued that direct notice to the Amazon customers that purchased WEN Haircare Products is simply unnecessary, the attorneys for the class say, “the damages claimed by users of WEN Haircare Products are substantial, highlighting the need for a robust notice program.”

“The allegations of the lawsuit are serious by any standard,” attorneys for the class write. “The products at issue garnered more complaints to the FDA than any cosmetic product in history.”

And besides, the attorneys claim, for an e-commerce giant like Amazon, it’s not a huge deal to run “a basic database query.”

The judge has now ordered Amazon to hand over the list of customers who bought WEN products.

(h/t The Seattle Times)

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