Yet another online people search website has been targeted for allegedly breaking an Illinois privacy law, as a new class action alleges WhitePages.com also wrongly uses a web search advertising technique to use people’s names to market their search reports.
On Feb. 1, plaintiff Kevin Klingler, identified only as a resident of Illinois, filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court, alleging the behavior of Seattle-based Whitepages violates the Illinois Right of Publicity Law.
Klingler is being represented in the action by attorney Ryan Sullivan, of the firm of Kozonis & Associates, of Chicago.
The putative class action is the latest in a string of legal complaints launched in recent weeks in Cook County court against the online people search companies, which purport to help people locate and learn information about other particular people.
In January, attorneys with the law firm of Edelson P.C., in Chicago, filed class actions against the companies the operate the websites Spokeo, Instant Checkmate and PeopleLooker, alleging their use of the advertising technique, known as “Dynamic Keyword Insertion,” violates the rights of Illinois residents under the state law.
WhitePages is accused in Klingler’s complaint of also using the technique.
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 WhitePages, Spokeo or similar sites can help the searcher find more information about someone.
In the case of WhitePages, Klingler contends, after he conducted a web search of his name, he was invited to purchase a membership allowing him to access information about himself.
“We Found Kevin Klingler,” the advertisement read, according to the lawsuit.
“WhitePages is exploiting an individual’s identity for commercial purposes,” Klingler’s lawsuit said. “WhitePages induces Internet users to click on the paid ad and purchase a monthly membership plan because it purports to have valuable information on the person they are searching for online.”
Klingler’s lawsuit contends WhitePages needed to obtain his “written consent” to use his name in such a way.
The lawsuit has asked the court to expand Klingler’s action to include a group of additional plaintiffs, which could “all Illinois residents whose names were displayed in one or more of WhitePages’ advertisements on Bing or similar search engines and who have never purchased any products or services from Whitepages.”
The lawsuit seeks damages of $1,000 per violation, as allowed under the Illinois law, plus punitive damages and attorney fees.