Invasion of Privacy Consumer Class Action

The court rejected the plaintiffs’ proposed conjoint survey in an invasion of privacy class action, and denied class certification in a related false advertising class action.

Consistent with our experts’ findings, the judge ruled that plaintiffs’ conjoint survey was not sufficiently tied to their theory of liability, and denied plaintiffs’ motion for class certification in this privacy class action.

Users of certain social media apps filed a lawsuit against the social media apps and a mobile device manufacturer. The plaintiffs alleged that the social media apps uploaded and disseminated the contact information stored on their mobile devices without prior knowledge or consent. They proposed a conjoint survey to measure the monetary value of the allegedly lost “inherent” privacy interest of the class.

The court found that plaintiffs’ proposed conjoint survey was not sufficiently tied to their liability theory, and denied plaintiffs’ motion for class certification.

Cornerstone Research supported two testifying experts to rebut the plaintiffs’ proposed damages model, Professor Dominique Hanssens of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Professor Lorin Hitt of the University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Hitt demonstrated that plaintiffs’ proposed conjoint survey was inadequate for assessing class-wide damages. Because privacy valuations varied across putative class members, harm could not be assessed without individualized inquiry. Professor Hanssens conducted a survey of social media app users, demonstrating heterogeneity in consumers’ privacy attitudes and data-sharing behavior.

Consistent with our experts’ conclusions, a U.S. district judge found that the plaintiffs’ proposed conjoint survey could not properly assign damages to each putative class member due to the variation in the value that individuals placed on the protection of their data. The judge ruled that plaintiffs’ proposed conjoint survey was not suitable for measuring class-wide damages.

Plaintiffs also filed a separate motion for class certification alleging that the mobile device manufacturer misrepresented the privacy and data security features of its devices. The plaintiffs’ expert proposed a conjoint survey to measure the value consumers placed on the data security features.

Cornerstone Research supported Professor Hitt, who testified in response to the plaintiffs’ class certification motion and damages model. Professor Hitt opined that plaintiffs’ proposed conjoint survey was incomplete and unreliable. Among other things, plaintiffs’ expert did not specify which mobile device features would be included in the proposed survey, and the survey would improperly seek to measure the value of privacy in general, not just the value of the specific data security features at issue.

The court agreed with Professor Hitt’s findings and ruled that plaintiffs’ conjoint survey was not sufficiently tied to their theory of liability, and denied plaintiffs’ motion for class certification.