Condé Nast’s parent company Advance Publications has agreed to pay nearly $14 million to settle a lawsuit accusing it of selling its magazine subscribers’ subscription history, reading habits, age, race, religion, charitable donations, political affiliations, income bracket, shopping habits and other personal data, to third parties without their consent. The settlement comes after the New York-based media giant, which owns Vogue, W, Vanity Fair, and GQ, among an array of other titles, was sued in July 2015 by Bon Appétit and Self subscriber Suzanne Boelter.
According to the class action suit that Michigan-based Boelter filed in a New York federal court, Condé Nast illegally granted third party “data mining” companies to access its database of subscriber information without giving notice to or obtaining permission from its subscribers. Such behavior, according to Boelter, runs afoul of the Michigan state Video Rental Privacy Act, which prohibits the sharing of personal information provided by consumers about their purchasing, renting or borrowing of materials that might provide details about their identity and interests without consent from the individual consumers.
Boelter asserted in her complaint that because she “ascribed value to the privacy of her Personal Reading Information (“PRI”), its sale and disclosure caused her to receive less value than she has paid for in her subscription costs.” Moreover, she claims that if she had been adequately informed of Condé Nast’s disclosure practices, she would not have been willing to pay the same price for her subscriptions.
Following a failed attempt to get the case tossed out of federal court in New York, Condé Nast has agreed to pay $13.8 million to settle the matter. As a result, all Michigan-based subscribers to the media giant’s magazines that had titles, ranging from The New Yorker to Vogue, delivered to them between July 2009 and July 2016 can join in the settlement.
The settlement is the latest in a growing string of multi-million dollar settlements from publishers that have been sued under Michigan state law for allegedly monetizing their subscribers’ PRI.
Condé rival Hearst Communications – parent to Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Cosmo, Marie Claire, Good Housekeeping, and Esquire – settled a similar suit earlier this summer, agreeing to pay up $50 million to subscribers after selling their data without their knowledge or consent. Before that, subscribers filed suit against Time and Fast Company’s publisher parent, Mansueto Ventures, a case that is still underway. Two other cases involving Rodale – which owns Women’s Health and Runner’s World – and Entertainment Weekly and People’s parent company, Meredith, have settled for $4.5 million and $7.5 million, respectively.
* The case is v. Advance Magazine Publishers, Inc.,1:15-cv-05671 (SDNY).