Lawsuit could pave new way for consumers to combat false online reports
In a ruling that could have far reaching implications for control and accuracy of identifiable data, a federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit filed against people data aggregator Spokeo for allegedly sharing incorrect information.
‘Spokeo v. Robins’ was sent back to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after the U.S. Supreme Court asked the judges to take a closer look at whether the plaintiff, Thomas Robins, had been harmed by a profile. The court said he has, under the U.S. Fair Credit Reporting Act — though whether the case will be able to reach class-action status remains to be seen.
Robins took legal action after people searching for him online came across his Spokeo listing, which was said to provide incorrect information about his age, education and work experience.
The appeals court responded decisively on Tuesday, with a 3-0 ruling in favor of Robins, as reported by Reuters. Circuit Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain suggested the errors on Spokeo’s site could “present a sincere risk of harm to the real-world interests that Congress chose to protect with FCRA.”
The case will now return to a U.S. district court, and Spokeo has vowed to fight to prove that its online search does not violate the FCRA. Robins is trying to pursue a class-action suit, and Spokeo argues that because every claiming will need to meet the standard of harm, it is unlikely to receive that certification.
The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sided with Robins in the case, and said that Spokeo did not seek “maximum possible accuracy” in its aggregated people search.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on standard of harm sent ripple effects throughout lower courts in the months that followed, creating uncertainty for a number of potential class action suits. It also has potentially major implications for any company that publishes consumer information online — including the likes of Facebook and Google.
The decision could even reach into the financial realm, as even under the FCRA, consumers have struggled to have credit data accurately corrected when it is found to be false. Using the standard of harm defined through the Supreme Court and appellate courts, consumers could conceivably see lawsuits proceed if they can prove real damage — such as being rejected for a loan based on incorrect information.
In a related development, earlier this month the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that customers affected by a health care data breach were placed at risk by lack of security. The court ruled that customers affected by a 2014 data breach could sue insurance provider CareFirst.
As with the Spokeo case, it was an appeals court that came down on the side of consumers, potentially setting the stage for individuals to have grounds to fight inaccurate information — and potentially receive repercussions when harmed by it.