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Minnesota man sues Google over video rental history

A Minnesota man is seeking class certification in a lawsuit against Google alleging violation of Minnesota’s law prohibiting disclosure of videotape rental or sales records.

Burke Minahan filed suit in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, on Sept. 30.

The lawsuit arises out of Minahan’s interactions with Google Play, a video rental service offered by technology giant Google. Consumers create a Google account to access Google Play. Anytime a user has an interaction with Google Play, those activities are logged. Google keeps records of its consumers, including account and billing information. But it also keeps records of consumers’ video rental histories, identifying each video rented by consumers on Google Play. It also includes the date of when the video was rented as well as the price paid for the rental.

Minahan has rented videos from Google Play since 2018. According to Minahan, his entire video rental history stemming back to 2018 is available for viewing on his Google account. When Minahan reviews his account profile, he is able to see his “Budget and Order History.” This lists every single video he has rented since he has been a Google Play consumer. When Minahan reviews the order history, he is unable to select the video and view it again, as the transaction is complete. Consumers are able to access the video for 30 days, but has only 48 hours to finish watching the video after they have started to view it. Hence, other than to retain the information, there is no purpose for the consumer to maintain this list.

By maintaining these digital records, Minahan contends, Google has violated Minnesota law. Minn. Stat. § 3251.02(6) requires all video rental companies to “destroy personally identifiable information as soon as practicable, but no later than one year from the date the information is no longer necessary for the purpose for which it was collected.”

“Google did not destroy Plaintiff Minahan’s personal information as soon as practicable. Google did not even destroy Plaintiff Minahan’s personal information within one year from the date the information was no longer necessary for the purpose for which it was collected,” the complaint states. Minahan believes that Google’s intention is to indefinitely store consumers’ video rental history.

Minnesota’s statute is a state analog of a federal law that ties back to Robert Bork’s failed United States Supreme Court Bid. While Bork’s nomination to the court was pending in 1987, Bork’s video rental history was published in City Paper. Although Bork did not rent anything salacious, people became outraged at the thought that their video records could become common knowledge. Eventually, Congress passed the Video Privacy Protection Act in 1988. The Act makes any “video tape service provider” liable for up to $2,500 in actual damages if it discloses rental information outside of the ordinary course of business.

Minahan seeks class certification for all Minnesota residents who have used Google to rent videos over the last few years. He also demands a jury trial. Under Minnesota law, consumers can seek a minimum of $500 for violation of the video rental records law.


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