In a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals and handed a victory to Spokeo.com in their fight against Thomas Robins. Spokeo is a data broker that offers its subscribers access to its database, which contains personal information about hundreds of thousands of people.
In this case, Spokeo published a profile about Robins that was completely false. The profile stated that Robins was married, wealthy, employed, and had children. In reality, Robins was single, unemployed, and had little personal wealth. Robins claimed that the false information hurt him while he was searching for job prospects.
The claim falls under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This Act is in place to ensure that consumer reporting agencies provide accurate information about everyone they publish. The Act intends to prevent consumer reporting companies from posting incorrect information about individuals that could potentially interfere with people attempting to get credit or find employment.
When the Supreme Court threw out the Court of Appeals holding, they sent it back to the Court of Appeals for further consideration. The Justices gave Robins a chance to attempt to prove he suffered actual tangible harm from the publishing of the false information. Justice Alito, who wrote the opinion, wanted Robins to show a “concrete and particularized” injury with proof of losses.
Many websites that collect and distribute personal information were paying close attention to this case. Had Robins won, there would be far-reaching implications for companies like YP.com and Facebook, who would face much more liability if they published false or incorrect information. That could potentially open up the door for extremely large class action suits that could cost these companies billions.
This case is a concrete example of the virtual world’s effect on “real life.” One side argued that the type of incorrect information that Spokeo claimed for Robins, in and of itself, was not enough to cause him “harm.” But what if potential employers and recruiters saw that information and overlooked him, solely because they thought he was a wealthy and employed individual? For someone who is looking for employment, that loss could be devastating.
The implications of ubiquitous publishing of nearly everyone’s personal information are vast. The Supreme Court’s decision to send this case back to the Court of Appeals for further investigation shows that the high court takes this matter very seriously.
Contact Revision Legal’s team of experienced internet attorneys through our contact form, or call 855-473-8474, for more information about personal information that appears online.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Ministerio TIC Columbia