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Supreme Court to hear data collection case

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a case next term that could make it easier for individuals to sue a data collection firm for inaccurate information even if the data didn’t cause any harm.

Spokeo, a Pasadena, Calif.-based search engine that aggregates publicly-available information about individuals, was sued in 2010 in a class action suit by Thomas Robins. Robins, an unemployed Virginia resident, alleged that the data Spokeo collected about him was wrong and he sued under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

The first court found that because Robins didn’t suffer any harm, he couldn’t sue, but that decision was reversed on appeal before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Spokeo appealed 9th circuit’s decision to the Supreme Court.

Collecting data from the Internet has become big business for companies like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo. If the Supreme Court finds that Robins and others can sue, it could expose Internet companies that collect data and other data brokers to more lawsuits, leading potentially to billions of dollars in damages. The Obama Admnistration and several Internet companies have filed amicus briefs including eBay, data broker Experian, Google, Facebook and Yahoo.

Privacy groups have been after Spokeo for several years, leading to an $800,000 to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it was operating as a consumer reporting agency and violated the FCRA when it sold its profiles to companies for recruiting and background screening.