Consumer alert: How safe are your personal information online?

A JURY in Santa Clara County recently issued a verdict of $16.5 million against an online dating website service for disseminating members’ private information to thousands of websites that members did not sign up for.
The Complaint in federal court stated that Successfulmatch.com runs several websites that offer dating service to the public. To expand its business, Successfulmatch.com offers monetary commission to anyone who will register a domain name with them. One of the websites registered was PositiveSingles.com, which offered online dating services for an “exclusive” group of persons who have been diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases. (Successfulmatch.com has reportedly created hundreds of thousands of other websites with names such as gaypozdating.com, AIDSDate.com, herpesinmouth.com, ChristianSafeHaven.com, MeetBlackPOZ.com and PositivelyKinky.com.)
John Doe signed up with PositiveSingles.com. He did not know that Successfulmatch.com was creating websites that focused on specific personal traits of persons, such as Christian, gay, kinky, or HIV positive. He did not know that when he signed up for Positivesingles.com, his profile will be displayed on Successfulmatch.com’s other traits-specific websites, suggesting that he shared these traits when he did not.
Doe sued Successfulmatch.com and Positivesingles.com on behalf of himself, and other persons who experienced the same harm. In his complaint, Doe claimed that had he known that his personal information will be displayed in these other websites that he did not sign up for, he would not have allowed it.
PositiveSingles.com allegedly promised its registered members a “Fully Anonymous Profile” and that it will not disclose, sell or rent any personally identifiable information. However, its members’ pictures and personal information were linked to the databases of other websites that had registered members who had conditions or characteristics that the Positivesingles.com members may not have. The website’s Terms of Service was not “apparent” to persons who were registering.
After several days of trial, the jury awarded approximately $1.5 million of compensatory damages to the class members and $15 million in punitive damages. The court found that some provisions of the Terms of Service are unconscionable and indicated that it will prohibit the websites in continuing its illegal conduct.
The right to privacy is a personal and fundamental right protected by the Constitutions of both California and the United States. All individuals have a right of privacy in information pertaining to them. The state recognizes that the right to privacy is being threatened by the indiscriminate collection, maintenance, and dissemination of personal information and the lack of effective laws and legal remedies.
It further recognizes that the use of computers and other sophisticated information technology has greatly magnified the potential risk to individual privacy that can occur from the maintenance of personal information. To protect the privacy of individuals, California has found it necessary that the maintenance and dissemination of personal information be subject to strict limits.
One such law requires commercial websites and online services that collect personally identifiable information about individual consumers to conspicuously post its privacy policy on its website. Examples of “personally identifiable information” include first and last name, home or other physical address, an e-mail address, a telephone number, a social security number, or other types of identifiers that permit the physical or online contacting of a specific individual.
Where consumers are victimized by privacy violations, the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act may allow consumers who suffer damage as a result of an unlawful practice to obtain monetary damages; restitution of property; punitive damages; court costs and attorney’s fees.

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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost.  Atty. Sayas’ Law Office is located at 500 N. Brand Blvd. Suite 980, Glendale, CA 91203. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit  www.joesayaslaw.com. 

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C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is trial attorney who has obtained several million dollar recoveries for his clients against employers and insurance companies. He has been selected as a Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, featured in the cover of Los Angeles Daily Journal’s Verdicts and Settlements, and is a member of the Million Dollar-Advocates Forum.

1 Comment
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