Viacom Says It Doesn't Collect "Personal Information" from Children

Adults? That's a different story.
Nickelodeon

Will telling children not to use their real names save Viacom from a privacy lawsuit over data collection on Nick.com?

On Monday, the media conglomerate filed a summary judgment motion in a lawsuit that was revived by a federal appeals court in June. In court papers, Viacom asks a judge to find that it simply doesn't collect personal information from those who register profiles on the kids' website.

Viacom has already beaten most of the lawsuit, but the 3rd Circuit permitted an intrusion upon seclusion claim to move forward thanks to Nick.com including a message that read, "HEY GROWN-UPS: We don't collect ANY personal information about your kids. Which means we couldn't share it even if we wanted to!"

The putative class action alleges that Viacom does indeed collect personal information about children, and on that basis, the appeals court concluded that Nick.com's "Hey Grown-Ups" message, if false, could be considered "highly offensive" and a tort violation.

The difference now is that Viacom is at the summary judgment phase where plaintiff's allegations don't have to be accepted as true, and so, Viacom is asking the judge to consider evidence that it spoke truthfully to parents about its privacy practices.

"There was no deception, no 'highly offensive' conduct, and therefore no intrusion," the company states its brief (read here). "The company clearly disclosed that it would collect anonymous details about Nick.com registrants and anonymous technical details necessary for site usage. It told registrants not to supply their names or other personal information. In short, Viacom did not collect any 'personal information' that could be used to identify users in the real world."

Viacom does admit to collecting certain info like browser settings, but only to make its site better. The company also waives off what one of its executives stated at a conference about the ability to track users for the benefit of advertisers, explaining the executive was referring only to Viacom's websites for adults.

As for Nick.com, Viacom posts a screenshot of what users see to "join the club" (see below) with emphasis on the warning users are given, "Don't use your real name or any personal info."

Viacom also makes Nick.com visitors confirm they've read the privacy policy before registering. There, Viacom tells registrants it might collect birth dates, gender, IP addresses and device identifiers associated with the user's computer. Viacom says it doesn't collect real names, physical addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, financial account information nor "other identifying details that allow[] it to detect a child's real-world identity."

The current dispute hasn't gone to discovery, and Viacom tells the judge it's not necessary.

On the other hand, Viacom was recently flagged in an investigation brought by New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman over tracking of children in alleged violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Viacom agreed to pay $500,000 as a settlement.

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