WideOpenWest Targeted In Lawsuit Over Internet Ad Trial

A lawsuit filed in Chicago federal court alleges WideOpenWest violated customers' privacy by conducting a test with NebuAd -- a now-defunct startup that served targeted Web ads based on the sites a user visited -- and comes two months after an identical suit was dismissed in California.

The complaint, which seeks class-action status, was filed Dec. 9 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern Illinois.

The lead law firm that filed the suit, Chicago-based KamberEdelson LLC, had previously made the same allegations against WOW and five other Internet service providers -- Bresnan Communications, CenturyTel, Embarq, Knology and Cable One -- in a complaint that a federal court in California dismissed in October for jurisdictional reasons.

The suit filed this week alleges WOW lied to customers when it assured them that it would not share personally identifiable information with any advertisers. In addition, the suit asserts, WOW failed to disclose that the opt-out it offered users only affected whether those users saw ads delivered by NebuAd but "did not alter the fact that WOW continued its wholesale interception and diversion of traffic to NebuAd."

In a statement, WOW general counsel Craig Martin said, "WOW believes the case to be without merit and intends to vigorously defend it. WOW's singular focus on the customer experience and relationship is reflected in the numerous industry-related awards and recognitions received for customer satisfaction. WOW prohibits any violation of privacy laws and has complied with all laws protecting personally identifiable information."

WOW has acknowledged that it tested NebuAd's ad platform with some of its 330,000 high-speed Internet customers from March until early July 2008, but that it ceased the trial after consumer-privacy issues were raised including by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The latest lawsuit from KamberEdelson seeks at least $5 million. The suit demands that WOW pay all the money it received from NebuAd for distribution to the class; that WOW be ordered to delete all of its customers' stored personal information and pay restitution and damages for invasion of privacy, unjust enrichment, eavesdropping and violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The lead plaintiff in the case is Dan Valentine, described in the complaint as a resident of Cook County, Illinois, and a subscriber to WOW's broadband Internet services. In addition to KamberEdelson, attorneys listed for the plaintiff are Joseph H. Malley, of Dallas, and Los Angeles-based law firm Panish Shea & Boyle LLP. The case is docket number 09-cv-07653.

News of the suit was reported Friday by Courthouse News Service.