back to article Closeted lesbian sues Netflix for privacy invasion

An in-the-closet lesbian mother has sued Netflix for publishing data that she believes could be used to out her. The unnamed Ohio woman claims her privacy was invaded when the movie rental company disclosed insufficiently anonymous information on the viewing habits of 480,000 customers as part of a $1m contest to improve its …


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  1. Anonymous Coward


    for the first person who can identify her.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, you'll need it, lots of it...

      This is a _real-life_ lesbian from OHIO...

    2. Stevie


      Two beers for the first person to identify *you*, "AC".

  2. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge


    "Anonymized data collected from GPS-enabled devices may not be as anonymous as many expect, either, according to research published earlier this year."

    Really? I'm dubious.. I mean, that row of GPS fixes going from my house to work and back every day.. hell that could be ANYBODY couldn't it?


    *goes to get the extra-thick tin-foil hat*. But in all seriousness, the only devices I have that even have GPS are my phone and an old serial-port GPS receiver I have at home. The phone, Verizon realized people could get pissed if rogue apps were collecting "statistical" data, and the phones are all shipped with Location set to "E911 only". Even the "VZ Navigator" cannot get a location until it instructs me to go to System->Location->"Location On". My mom's got a TomTom, but it has no radio in it.

    Of course I plan to get a Motorola Droid pretty soon (for some reason they didn't allow tethering attached to them until January, so I'm waiting until then..) Then I'll probably be playing with the google maps constantly and google will always know where I am hahaha.

    1. foxyshadis

      That's great security, Verizon

      So the only options are none, 911 only, and anyone? Wonderful, the only way it'll be worth having at all is to undo the effort of blocking it in the first place. At least Blackberries allow you to grant individual applications access to GPS.

    2. Anonymous Coward


      I'm curious as to how the TomTom can get a GPS fix if it doesn't have any radio??

      Perhaps you mean that it doesn't have a transmitter?

  3. JohnG

    Ts & Cs and Privacy Policy

    Has the lady or her lawyers actually read Netflix's Ts & Cs and Privacy Policy?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ts & Cs and Privacy Policy

      She probably hasn't, her lawyers I would hope have, but reading the linked article in Wired does reveal this:

      "video records count among the most privacy protected records in the U.S. — a reaction to a reporter getting Supreme Court–nominee Robert Bork’s records from a video store."

      Never mind trawling Netflix database records, perhaps this reveals a way to make other information a bit more private again...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    If the netflix data doesn't out her

    Her lawsuit sure will.

    Paris, 'cause this whole lesbian thing has got me thinking

  5. Trev 2

    Does she think anyone actually cares?

    The big question here is why would anyone want to go trying to match up the dots - not like they can extract money from her or does she think somehow the world actually gives a monkeys about who she fancies? Me smells a rat here, especially in the "I want publicity" kindof way.

    1. foxyshadis

      I'm sure she knows they do

      Sadly, even if you don't, there are plenty of people out there who care a great deal looking to make peoples' lives miserable for such a non-issue, especially since she has kids. Have you ever been to suburbia?

  6. Matt 32

    Spot on!

    >Never mind trawling Netflix database records, perhaps this reveals a way to make other

    >information a bit more private again...

    That is EXACTLY how we get better privacy regulations.

    If it wasn't for the side effect of having the U.S. Attorney & full weight of the Government come at you in a way that would make Gary McKinnon look like someone being handled with kid gloves, the most effective way to improve privacy would be for hackers to target Congress & the Judiciary's private lives.

    Succede enough and they'll target the source -- keeping and collating too much information, not the channel of it's release.

    1. Nick Stallman
      Thumb Down


      Although the channel will also get 20 years in prison.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      >Succede enough and they'll target the source

      No, they'll just make gathering data on members of congress, the judiciary and their families a crime and leave it open season for the rank and file.

  7. Steve Roper

    I'm with Netflix on this one

    I'm all in favour of privacy, because I hate people snooping into my life as much as anyone does. But at the same time, you need to take some responsibility for protecting your own privacy as much as you expect others to do so.

    Now if I read the article correctly, the method used to break someone's privacy involves going to other sites like IMDB and matching up what someone writes on there with what they wrote on Netflix. That's not Netflix's problem, because they have no control over what someone writes elsewhere. If you're stupid or lazy enough to just copypasta something you write on a site where you expect to be anonymous to another site where you can be traced then more fool you.

    The way I see it, under Netflix's system a researcher can see that Customer 1792548 hired Brokeback Mountain on this date and wrote "This is a damned awesome movie" - but has no way, within Netflix's system, to find out who Customer 1792548 is, what their race/religion/sexuality is, or where they live. But if Customer 1792548 then copypastes "This is a damned awesome movie" as LesbianMom23 on Brokeback Mountain's comments page on IMDB then she has only herself to blame if someone else happens to know who LesbianMom23 is. (And you'd be surprised at how many people give away significant information about themselves with their net handles. I wouldn't be surprised to see this woman actually call herself LesbianMom or something similar!)

    Think about what you're putting on the Internet, privacy policy or not, because if you post something you want kept anonymous and then copypaste it where it can be identified, you have only yourself to blame.

    1. Pablo
      Thumb Down

      Good advce but...

      Customer 1792548 had no reason to think NetFlix was going to blab her rental habits to the whole world. It's one thing to be careful about what information you make public, but when companies start publishing data about you that you never knew would be public in the first place, it's rather unreasonable to expect people to plan for that.

      1. JohnG

        Oh yes she did!

        "Customer 1792548 had no reason to think NetFlix was going to blab her rental habits to the whole world."

        Except that Netflix's privacy policy says they would give aggregated customer data to third parties.

        1. Brutus

          Oh no she didn't (it IS panto season :) )

          If you find an ID tag, you're not looking at aggregated data!

  8. Chris Bradshaw

    She should have kept her head down

    I have sympathy with her, she shouldn't be outed against her will. But the lawsuit almost challenges people to try and find her - she has publicized that she has something to hide and that by using the Netflix data plus the internet, she can be found. A lot of people with various intentions (good or bad) are going to try to find her, most likely some will succeed. If she wanted her data to be kept private, a public lawsuit is not the right answer.

    There is the same difference between a 'security in obscurity' unpatched server and a 'try and pwn my unpatched server' challenge. One MAY be pwned, the other WILL be...

  9. Charles Manning


    You missed her point.

    If she had called herself LesbianMom she wouldn't have a case, but she did take care to protect her identity by calling herself ClosetLesbianMom.

  10. Jeff F.
    Paris Hilton

    Something fishy

    And why don't we know that there are ways to hit up hotties or cougars, or lesbos in the block reading movie reviews on both Netflix AND Imdb an cross referencing City, or usernames.?

    Sounds like a lot of effort to me. I'm happy to say i'm a John Wayne loving, NRA member so don't bother looking up that I watched. Seems like some dumb ass lawyer with too much time on their hands.

  11. Lee 13

    Isn't this the old Streisand effect?

    I mean, IDGAS and I'm sure as heck sure the Lezzer's Mom DGAS and still would love her, whichever way she chooses to bat?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    May I be the first to say....

    ... "Streisand Effect"

    Paris because - well, who needs a reason?

  13. LuMan
    Paris Hilton

    Lesbian Mother???

    Either photos or Playmobil, or it's all made up!

  14. g e


    Yet Another Streisand

    Surely if the netflix data is anonymised then it's actually her IMDB postings that are actually identifyting her? That would seem to be the least anonymous element. I know the netflix data ties it together but you need two ends of a piece of string to tie a knot.

    If you posted a list of strawberry jam lovers (no that's not a euphemism) by town and someone had left loads of reviews on Robinsons' site saying they love their strawb jam then it's not my fault for issuing geographic strawb jam usage data when the individual is outed as a closet strawb jam fancier. My data was anonymous, it needed non-anon data posted by that individual to actually tie it up with that individual.

    Maybe she should just remember 'Never post anything on the internet you don't want the world to know' especially if you have some closet sexual secret you'd rather kept locked in the closet.

  15. DZ-Jay
    Thumb Up

    Re: I'm with Netflix on this one


    >> "...but has no way, within Netflix's system, to find out who Customer 1792548 is, what their race/religion/sexuality is, or where they live."

    But that's precisely what happened. I understand your confusion regarding the specifics of the case, since El Reg failed to mention some of them; but if you read the original article and other information elsewhere, you'll find realize that that is precisely what Netflix is doing: For their recently concluded contest, they released account IDs along with age and demographic information; and they have announced that for their new contest they will include location information as well, such as Zip code.

    The sexual orientation can be discerned from the rental history itself, which is what the original Bork lawsuit was about.

    All this data together--provided solely by Netflix--can be put together to create a profile of the user, which can then be matched to an individual, using proven data-mining techniques.


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'm Quite Curious

      as to how the rental history will identify sexual orientation.

      I'm pretty sure one or two straight people have rented brokeback mountain in the past. Even if it's nothing but lesbian porn, i'm pretty sure a large number of straight people (well mostly men) have rented that too!

  16. The First Dave

    @g e

    "you need two ends of a piece of string to tie a knot."

    Rubbish, as was the rest of your post. It's easy to tie a knot in the middle of a string if you have enough slack, in much the same way that a phone number or even a full postal address does not identify someone _on its own_ but both would generally be regarded as personal info.

    Talking about the terms and conditions brings into question the matter of understanding - what does 'anonymised' mean? I doubt anyone could successfully argue out of context, that something was anonymous if it was possible to trace it back to an actual person.

  17. ratfox

    Like anyone would bother...

    It reminds me of the people who very publicly sued Google for publishing pictures of their house in Google street.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Brokeback Mountain factor

    Gropecrack Mountain perhaps.

  19. Sean Bailey

    Kinda missing the point

    I don't think it's a case of brokeback mountain being the movie that outed her.

    Imagine this.

    I rent brokeback mountain from netflix, then review it on imdb and netflix. No problem there right?

    I then rent lesbian nurses 3, hot lesbian nights 7 and the DIY guide to becoming a good lesbian, needless to say I don't write any reviews.

    Netflix then releases the information that ID 12345 rented all the above (including brokeback) and my review for brokeback mountain.

    Now you have a review for brokeback from netflix, off to imdb you see the exact review from me. You then put together the account from netflix with the account from imdb...voila.

    She didn't really out herself, but then again netflix didn't really out her. This lawsuit sure as hell will though

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