After filing a class action lawsuit
against online personal information provider Spokeo, the legal team behind that
lawsuit has brought at least three other class actions against similar online
operators, claiming their web search advertising practices also have violated
an Illinois privacy law by using a web search advertising trick to use people’s
names to market their online people search products.
On Jan. 23, attorneys with the Chicago
law firm of Edelson P.C. filed lawsuits in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf
of named plaintiffs, identified as Nicole Vinci and Anna Dobrowolski, against BeenVerified,
which also operates the PeopleLooker website, and Instant Checkmate.
Two days later, the lawyers and Dobrowolski
also filed another class action, this time targeting Intelius Inc.
All of the lawsuits are virtually
identical to a class action filed on Jan. 19 in Cook County court against
Spokeo Inc. Vinci served as the lead plaintiff in that case.
That lawsuit and the three filed
against BeenVerified, Instant Checkmate and Intelius all alleged the companies’
online advertising tactics violated the rights of Illinois residents under the
state’s Right of Publicity Act.
The lawsuits centered on the websites’
use of a technology known as “Dynamic Keyword Insertion” to generate web ads
targeted at people conducting online searches.
Under that practice, when a person inputs the name
of a person – either their own, or that of another – into a search engine, like
Google or Bing, online advertising purchased by Spokeo or similar sites seizes
on that search to create a web ad specifically targeted at the person
conducting the search. It does so by simply inserting the name of the person
whose name had been plugged into the search engine, making the user believe
Spokeo or similar sites can help the searcher find more information about
In the Spokeo lawsuit, for instance, Vinci said a
web search for her name would have produced an ad headlined, “We Found Nicole
Vinci – Looking for Nicole Vinci?” The ad would then include a link to Spokeo’s
website, where visitors can then purchase a report on Vinci or other people,
containing information culled from a variety of public sources and databases.
The lawsuits alleged the websites would essentially
claim the names of people, and then use their names, without their consent, as “a
marketing ploy” to hawk their reports or memberships, which the lawsuits
asserted, violated the Illinois Right of Publicity Act.
In the lawsuits, Vinci, Dobrowolski and their
attorneys asked the court to expand the litigation to include classes of
potentially many other plaintiffs. The complaints did not estimate how large
the classes might be, but generally petitioned to include all Illinois
residents whose names were featured in such ads deployed by the four websites,
and who had not purchased one of the reports or memberships.
The plaintiffs are seeking damages of $1,000 per
violation, as is called for under the Illinois law, as well as unspecified
punitive damages and attorney fees.