Michigan man alleges National Geographic's disclosure of personal information caused unwanted junk mail

By Marian Johns | Apr 10, 2019

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Legal Newsline) – A Michigan man has filed a class action lawsuit against National Geographic alleging the magazine disclosed subscribers' personal information regarding their subscriptions in violation of the state's privacy law that resulted in a bombardment of "unwanted junk mail."

According to the lawsuit, which was filed March 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, plaintiff Mark Markham claims the defendant, National Geographic Partners LLC, violated Michigan's Preservation of Personal Privacy Act (PPPA). 

The plaintiff alleges National Geographic "rented, exchanged and disclosed" his subscription information to data aggregators, appenders, cooperatives and list brokers who then gave the information to "aggressive" advertisers, political organizations and various nonprofits.  

The plaintiff alleges that through Specialists Marketing Services Inc. (SMS), a listing broker, National Geographic provided personal reading information of more than a million "active subscribers" of National Geographic for $105 per thousand. 

The information allegedly included gender, product affinities, demographic, ethnicity, political affiliation and purchasing behavior, according to the lawsuit. The plaintiff also alleges full names, magazines subscribed to, age, income and religion were also among the personal information given to third parties without subscribers' consent. 

The plaintiff argues that the PPPA "established" a person's choice of reading, music and video entertainment "is a private matter" and that National Geographic failed "its legal responsibility" by releasing the subscribers' information in violation of the PPPA, the suit states. 

The plaintiff also alleged that National Geographic's actions, as well as other companies who participate in data aggregation, leaves consumers' personal information vulnerable to "fraudulent telemarketers and other criminals," especially the elderly who are specifically targeted by scammers. 

National Geographic allegedly also does not gain "prior written consent" from subscribers before renting and exchanging their personal information on the "open market," or list any privacy policy, according to the plaintiff's complaint. 

The lawsuit cites violation of the PPPA and unjust enrichment and seeks actual damages of $5,000 or whichever is greater provided by the PPPA, as well as attorneys' fees and litigation costs. 

Markham is represented by attorneys from Bursor & Fisher in New York City and Hedin Hall in Miami.

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