Membership Platform Patreon Sued for California Video Privacy Law Violations

Four plaintiffs, three of whom are California residents, have filed suit against Patreon Inc. for tracking the video content they watch and sending that information to Facebook without their consent. Last Friday’s complaint states claims under California’s Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), a law that prevents companies from willingly disclosing which videos a person watches without their express consent, and the state’s unfair competition and consumer remedies statutes.

“Patreon powers membership businesses for creators by giving them the tools they need to acquire, manage, and energize their paying patrons,” its website says. Specifically, fans pay content creators a monthly amount of their choice in exchange for “exclusive access, extra content, or a closer look into their creative journey.”

The plaintiffs say they paid San Francisco, Calif-based Patreon subscription fees in exchange for access to its website. However, the subscribers were neither asked nor consented to Patreon’s use of Facebook’s Pixel, an advertising tool embedded in Patreon’s website code intended to drive revenue by improving its ability to promote content and services.

Pixel, a snippet of programming code, sends Facebook the Patreon user’s Facebook ID and a title of a video that the user watched, providing Facebook with “information about its users’ preferences, other distinguishing traits, and web-browsing activities outside of Meta-owned platforms,” the complaint says. It argues that Patreon’s use of the Pixel violates the VPPA by disclosing which videos users watched to Facebook. The unfair competition law claim asserts that Patreon’s conduct violates both its unlawful and unfair prongs, and that the company has engaged in fraud by omission.

The suit seeks to certify a nationwide class and a California subclass of Patreon users with Facebook accounts who viewed video content on Patreon while Pixel was active with a class period spanning 2013 to the present. Counsel for the plaintiffs and putative class is Girard Sharp LLP.

The suit is not the first seeking to hold an online content provider accountable for VPPA violations. In March, users sued HGTV for its use of the Pixel among other purported misconduct.