Class action: People finder site's 'reputation scores' violate Illinois publicity rights law

By Scott Holland | Mar 29, 2018

A website that purports to offer its clients a “reputation score” is facing a class action accusing it of violating the Illinois Right of Publicity Act.

Cook County residents Monika Cichowlas and John Bonell sued in a class action complaint filed March 15 in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago. They say the website unlawfully appropriated their identities, along with those of thousands of other Illinoisans, including “addresses, employment histories, criminal records, social media pictures and other sensitive and personal information.” They further said the company illegally solicited payment to correct information about supposed criminal histories posted to the site.

According to the complaint, MyLife often is referred to as a “people finder” site, offering visitors the ability to “find anyone and learn more about them.” The site says paid subscribers can access “anyone’s Reputation Score, run background checks on anyone and get complete contact information.”

The site’s homepage carries a banner reading: “Reputation is more important than credit. Only MyLife provides Reputation Scores based on public information gathered from government, social and other sources, plus personal reviews written by others.”

The plaintiffs say a critical aspect of their allegations is what the site generates after a search for an individual name — a page used to entice people to pay for “full background detail” or to “claim and manage my background report.” They say this violates the Illinois Right of Publicity Act’s prohibition on using a person’s identity information for commercial purposes without written consent.

They also say the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act makes it illegal for anyone who publishes or disseminates “criminal record information through a print or electronic medium to solicit or accept the payment of a fee or other consideration to remove, correct or modify said criminal record information.” The complaint includes screenshots from the website as evidence the company only allows paying members to access full reports or modify their own information.

Cichowlas said she discovered in February that MyLife had a page displaying her name, location, birthdate, photograph and likeness. She said only through paying can she see what “criminal record information” MyLife posted, nor can she correct her information on the site.

Bonell’s allegations are similar. Like Cichowlas, his allegation includes a screenshot showing a reputation score. Bonell’s was set at 3.25, while Cichowlas’ was 2.38. But according to the complaint, the default is 4.5, and MyLife attempts to correct the low scores for people who pay for subscriptions.

The complaint asks the court to establish a class of additional plaintiffs under the IRPA law, for any Illinoisan whose name, age and location appeared on MyLife without written consent, and a likeness subclass for anyone whose picture was featured. It also calls for an ICFA class for anyone whose MyLife page may reference criminal records and whose reputation score is lower than 4.5.

In addition to class certification and a jury trial, the complaint asks the court to award damages and MyLife profits, or at least $1,000 for each IRPA class member, whichever is greater. The plaintiffs also want the court to stop MyLife from using identifying information without written consent.

For the ICFA allegations, the complaint calls for injunctive relief to stop solicitation of payment related to criminal records, actual damages and legal fees.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from McGuire Law P.C., of Chicago, which also seeks to represent the class.

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McGuire Law PC Inc.

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