Federal Court Allows Class Action Against People-Finder Websites


Lawsuit alleges websites used individuals’ names and identities for marketing purposes without their permission

A really big downside is that many of these services want your credit card and are subscription-based, charging a monthly fee to your credit card.

– Carter P. Spohn, California Licensed Private Investigator

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, USA, Aug. 11, 2022 /EINPresswire.com/ — The internet age constantly reminds us of our diminishing expectations of privacy. Earlier this year, the operators of several “people search” websites were targeted by a class action lawsuit. These websites allow individuals to search for a name and, with little effort, discover a wealth of general information about the search target. Basic information such as age and location is free, while websites lure customers with additional details locked behind paywalls. Two people sued the website operator in federal court in California, alleging that their identity and personal data had been used to solicit subscriptions to the sites without their consent. The defendant website operators sought to dismiss the lawsuit, and the court issued its decision in mid-July. The case is Jose Medina Camacho and Rhonda Cotta v. PeopleConnect, Inc, Intelius LLC and The Control Group Media Company, LLC, Case no. 22-cv-209-MMA (MMD), filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.

Plaintiffs, Jose Medina Camacho of Alabama and Rhonda Cotta of California, brought a class action lawsuit in the Southern District of California against three companies that operate people-finding websites: The PeopleConnect, Inc., Intelius LLC, and The Control Group Media Company, LLC. Collectively, the defendants operate several people search websites, including TruthFinder, Intelius, Instant Checkmate and US Search. The websites sell access to comprehensive background reports on “just about anyone”, with information compiled from various databases and public record repositories. Research targets are not notified (or, of course, compensated in any way) when someone uses the websites to discover their personal information, or when the sites tease access to personal information of individuals from the other side of a paywall.

Carter Spohn is the director of the Millennium Intelligence Agency. He has been a licensed private investigator in California for over 35 years and has witnessed the growth and explosion of commercial people search providers since the beginning of the Internet. Spohn says he will never trust commercially available people search sites because there is no way of knowing how accurate the data is, how up-to-date the databases used are, and no means of verifying the data communicated to you.

“A really big downside,” Spohn says, “is that a lot of these services want your credit card and are subscription-based, charging a monthly fee to your credit card. You then spend unnecessary time trying to figure out how cancel your subscription or get a refund of payments you didn’t know you were authorizing A review of customer complaints about people-finding websites reveals a majority of complaints about allegedly unauthorized charges and extreme difficulty in canceling subscriptions.

For Spohn, the biggest difference between people search sites and a certified investigator is that Internet sites only give you a raw search result, and you don’t know if the information is accurate or up-to-date. “With a licensed private investigator,” says Spohn, “you get verified information and a report that explains what the information means, suggests further steps or resources to consider, and provides tailored opinions and conclusions. .” You are also dealing with a living human who is a licensed professional. “My attorney clients rely on my reports and findings to make important litigation decisions. My reputation and credibility are at stake and I could never rely on internet research companies for my investigations and research. concludes Spohn.

The plaintiffs in this case accuse the defendants of impersonating them without their consent and using their personal data for commercial advantage in violation of the right to publicity laws of California and Alabama. The defendants have offered to deny or compel arbitration on various grounds, citing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), constitutional provisions, and other purported defenses.

The court initially rejected the decision to impose arbitration. The defendants claimed that the plaintiffs had consented to an arbitration agreement by using their websites to collect data in this lawsuit. The court disagreed, finding that the plaintiff’s attorney had not bound the plaintiff to the sites’ arbitration agreement by accessing the material for the purposes of this lawsuit.

The court then rejected each of the grounds for dismissal alleged by the defendants. First, regarding the CDA’s immunity: the CDA shields website operators “from liability for third-party information (or content . . . ) unless the website operator “is liable, in all or in part, the creation or development of [the] Here, although the content (plaintiffs’ general information) comes from third parties, the compilation of the content by the defendants without authorization – in particular the use of “teasers” announcing access to information – is the real illegal behavior. The CDA therefore offered no protection to the defendants.

The court also rejected the defendants’ First Amendment and the state’s constitutional claims. Applicants seek to prevent the use of their personal information in advertising for paid services, not the disclosure of the information itself. These “teasers” are clear commercial content, which is not protected to the same degree as other forms of speech. Thus, state right to publicity laws serve a genuine public purpose and do not unduly impair the constitutional rights of defendants.

The court then found that the plaintiffs had made a proper claim for misappropriation. As alleged by the plaintiffs, the defendant used the identity of the plaintiffs, for commercial purposes, without consent, which caused harm to the plaintiffs. Defendants could not rely on “public use” or other public policy exceptions to the general rule.

Depending on the end result, the case may have a significant impact on people search websites as well as the use of personal information by other technology companies for commercial purposes.

Carter P. Spohn
Millennium Intelligence Agency
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