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Times Publishing Co. Settles Class-Action Lawsuit Over Alleged Facebook Data Disclosure

The Times Publishing Co., parent company of the Tampa Bay Times, has reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit that accused the newspaper of disclosing its online customers' identities and video viewing histories to Facebook. The settlement, announced on January 25, 2024, involves an expected payment of $950,000 to resolve the matter.

The lawsuit, filed last year in federal court in Tampa, was brought on behalf of subscribers to the Times' digital products. The allegations centered around a code embedded in tampabay.com known as Facebook Pixel, which the plaintiffs claimed shared subscriber information with Facebook without their consent.

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Conan Gallaty, Chairman and CEO of the Times Publishing Co., emphasized the company's commitment to privacy and disputed the plaintiff's claims. "Privacy is of the utmost importance to us," said Gallaty. "No customer information was shared at any point in time. We disagree completely with the plaintiff’s points in this case."

The plaintiff, Jennifer Waller, described as a digital subscriber to the Times, initiated the lawsuit. Two other subscribers, Lewis Darden and Sal Rivera, filed a similar lawsuit, and the cases were later combined.

The complaints alleged that the Times' website included the Facebook Pixel, which collected data about videos subscribers watched on tampabay.com and then shared that information with Facebook. The legal action invoked the Video Privacy Protection Act, a federal law from 1988 designed to prevent video stores from sharing customers' rental history and personal information.

To avoid a prolonged and costly legal battle, the Times chose to settle the case. Gallaty noted that the settlement would have no long-term impact on the company's business or finances, with most of the settlement funds being covered by the company's insurance policy. Eligible individuals will be contacted beginning in February to receive a portion of the settlement.

Gallaty reiterated the Times Publishing Co.'s commitment to journalism, stating, "To move on with business, we're settling this case. And we will continue to produce great journalism. That's our goal."

Similar legal actions have targeted various businesses in recent years, including the Boston Globe, NASCAR, Chick-fil-A, the National Football League, and General Mills. These lawsuits often cite the Video Privacy Protection Act, raising questions about its applicability in cases dealing with online privacy. Courts have reached differing conclusions on this matter.