Kirch et al v. Embarq Management Co. et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER finding as moot 31 Motion to Certify Class; granting 59 Sealed Motion for Summary Judgment. See Memorandum and Order for details. Signed by District Judge Julie A. Robinson on 8/19/2011. (pp)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF KANSAS
KATHLEEN KIRCH and TERRY KIRCH,
individually, and on behalf of themselves
and all others similarly situated,
EMBARQ MANAGEMENT CO., a
Delaware Corporation, and UNITED
TELEPHONE COMPANY OF EASTERN
KANSAS, a Delaware Corporation, and
DOE DEFENDANTS 1-5,
Case No. 10-2047-JAR
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Kathleen and Terry Kirch filed this putative class action against Internet service
providers Embarq Management Company and United Telephone Company of Eastern Kansas
(collectively, “Embarq”). Plaintiffs allege common law claims for invasion of privacy and
trespass to chattels, as well as claims for violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
(“CFAA”) and the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”). All claims relate
to Embarq’s collection and diversion of its customers’ Internet communications to a third party
Internet advertising company, NebuAd, Inc. (“NebuAd”), who used the information to target the
customers with advertising. Per stipulation, plaintiffs agreed to dismiss Counts I, III and IV
(invasion of privacy, CFAA and trespass to chattels).1 Before the Court are two motions:
Doc. 60, Ex. 1.
plaintiffs’ Motion to Certify Class (Doc. 31) and defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. 59) seeking to dismiss the remaining ECPA claim. Oral argument was held July 15, 2011,
at which time the Court took the motions under advisement. After considering the parties’
arguments and submissions, the Court is ready to rule. For the reasons set forth in detail below,
the Court grants defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment and denies plaintiffs’ Motion to
Certify Class as moot.2
In November, 2008, plaintiffs Kathleen and Terry Kirch, as well as others, brought suit in
the Northern District of California against NebuAd, Embarq, and several other Internet service
providers (“ISPs”), alleging violations of the ECPA.3 Embarq moved to dismiss on multiple
grounds, and the California court dismissed the complaint against Embarq and the other ISPs for
lack of personal jurisdiction. Plaintiffs refiled against Embarq in the District of Kansas; other
plaintiffs refiled against other ISPs in Montana, Alabama, Georgia, and Illinois, using common
counsel in Los Angeles. Plaintiffs continue to pursue their case against NebuAd in California.
Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party demonstrates that there is “no
The Complaint also names Doe Defendants 1-5, who are identified as “entities associated with Embarq
and/or UTC, possibly with contractual obligations with Defendants, that may require Defendants to provide notice to
the Does of this matter so as to appear and represent their interests. When the identities of any Does who are sued as
Does are identified, Plaintiffs will amend their complaint to name such parties.” Although a plaintiff may generally
plead claims against unknown defendants, he must “provide  an adequate description of some kind which is
sufficient to identify the person involved so process eventually can be served.” Fisher v. Okla. Dep’t of Corr.
Unknown State Actor and/or Actors, 213 F. App’x 704, 708 n.2 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Roper v. Grayson, 81 F.3d
124, 126 (10th Cir. 1996)). Here, the Complaint does not allege with any specificity which claims involve the Doe
defendants or what roles those unknown individuals might have played in this matter, nor have plaintiffs moved to
amend the Complaint to name such parties. Because all other claims against Embarq are dismissed below, the
Court dismisses these Doe defendants as well.
Valentine et al. v. NebuAd Inc., et al., No. 3:08-cv-05113 (N.D. Cal.).
genuine dispute as to any material fact” and that it is “entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”4
In applying this standard, the court views the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in
the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.5 A fact is “material” if, under the applicable
substantive law, it is “essential to the proper disposition of the claim.”6 An issue of fact is
“genuine” if “there is sufficient evidence on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve
the issue either way.”7
The moving party initially must show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and
entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.8 In attempting to meet this standard, a movant that
does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial need not negate the other party’s claim;
rather, the movant need simply point out to the court a lack of evidence for the other party on an
essential element of that party’s claim.9
Once the movant has met this initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to
“set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.”10 The nonmoving party
may not simply rest upon its pleadings to satisfy its burden.11 Rather, the nonmoving party must
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).
Spaulding v. United Transp. Union, 279 F.3d 901, 904 (10th Cir. 2002).
Wright ex rel. Trust Co. of Kan. v. Abbott Labs., Inc., 259 F.3d 1226, 1231-32 (10th Cir. 2001) (citing
Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998)).
Adler, 144 F.3d at 670 (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).
Spaulding, 279 F.3d at 904 (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)).
Adams v. Am. Guar. & Liab. Ins. Co., 233 F.3d 1242, 1246 (10th Cir. 2000) (citing Adler, 144 F.3d at
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256; Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Spaulding, 279 F.3d at 904 (citing Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256; accord Eck v. Parke, Davis & Co., 256 F.3d 1013, 1017 (10th Cir. 2001).
“set forth specific facts that would be admissible in evidence in the event of trial from which a
rational trier of fact could find for the nonmovant.”12 To accomplish this, the facts “must be
identified by reference to an affidavit, a deposition transcript, or a specific exhibit incorporated
therein.”13 Rule 56(c)(4) provides that opposing affidavits must be made on personal knowledge
and shall set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence.14 The non-moving party
cannot avoid summary judgment by repeating conclusory opinions, allegations unsupported by
specific facts, or speculation.15 ”
Finally, summary judgment is not a “disfavored procedural shortcut”; on the contrary, it
is an important procedure “designed to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of
every action.”16 In responding to a motion for summary judgment, “a party cannot rest on
ignorance of facts, on speculation, or on suspicion and may not escape summary judgment in the
mere hope that something will turn up at trial.”17
Consistent with the well-established standard for evaluating a motion for summary
judgment, the following facts are either uncontroverted or stated in the light most favorable to
the nonmoving party. The Court notes that the majority of the facts set forth by Embarq are
Mitchell v. City of Moore, Okla., 218 F.3d 1190, 1197-98 (10th Cir. 2000) (quoting Adler, 144 F.3d at
Adams, 233 F.3d at 1246.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4).
Id.; Argo v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Kan., Inc., 452 F.3d 1193, 1199 (10th Cir. 2006) (citation
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986)(quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 1).
Conaway v. Smith, 853 F.2d 789, 794 (10th Cir. 1988).
either undisputed, or that plaintiffs claim to lack information to dispute the facts asserted. With
respect to the latter, however, plaintiffs do not assert that relief is appropriate under Fed. R. Civ.
P. 56(d), and because Rule 56(e) requires a plaintiff to properly address another party’s assertion
of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the Court thus considers such facts as undisputed.18
United Telephone Company of Eastern Kansas (“UTC”) is, among other things, an ISP
that provides high-speed Internet services to subscribers in Kansas. At all relevant times, UTC
did business under the brand name “Embarq.” Embarq Management Company (“EMC”) is a
corporate affiliate of UTC and provides contracted products, services, and employees to UTC
and other CenturyLink subsidiaries. EMC provides no services to the public and has no
NebuAd is a company headquartered in California that operated as an online advertising
company. NebuAd contracted with a number of ISPs to allow it to install its Ultra-Transparent
Appliance (“UTA”) on the ISPs’ networks. NebuAd sought to deliver advertisements targeted to
the interests of individuals who used the ISPs’ networks, based on interest profiles constructed
by NebuAd’s UTA and associated server computers (“the NebuAd System”). The NebuAd
System built interest profiles based on information concerning certain websites that users visited.
In November 2007, on behalf of UTC, EMC entered into a Technology Trial Evaluation
Agreement with NebuAd to test the UTA. Company personnel performed laboratory tests and
determined that routing Internet traffic through the UTA did not affect network integrity or
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; D. Kan. Rule 56.1(e) (requiring responding party to specifically set forth in detail the
reasons why they cannot admit or deny a fact).
performance. After laboratory testing was complete, it was decided to allow NebuAd to field
test the UTA in a “live” environment. UTC’s Gardner, Kansas point of presence was selected
for the test (“the NebuAd test”) because it was the smallest point of presence, with
approximately 26,000 high-speed Internet subscribers, and it was proximate to qualified
technical and product development staff. EMC does not own the network facilities on which the
NebuAd equipment was installed; rather, those network facilities are owned and operated by
UTC. The NebuAd test began in mid-December 2007 and was stopped completely by the end of
March 2008. Embarq received $29,143 from NebuAd as compensation for the NebuAd test.
Plaintiffs’ experts admitted that NebuAd’s UTA did not degrade the performance of any
customer’s Internet service, and plaintiffs have stipulated that NebuAd’s UTA caused no damage
to any Embarq customer’s computer. The NebuAd System did not serve pop-up advertisements.
The System did not increase the number of advertisements served to a user, but rather, served
advertisements only in place of the advertisements that otherwise would have been served to the
user. The System was authorized by other advertising networks to replace their advertisements
with its own.
All Internet traffic that passed through UTC’s Gardner point of presence flowed through
NebuAd’s UTA. NebuAd’s UTA identified the “port number” associated with each internet
communication passing through UTC’s Gardner point of presence. Different port numbers are
associated with different types of Internet communications. Port 80 is associated with “HTTP
traffic,” and only websites whose addresses begin with “http://” are accessed through Port 80.
An IP address is a series of numbers associated with a server or website, and it is used to route
traffic to the proper destination on the Internet. The NebuAd System employed a technology
called “deep packet inspection” (“DPI”) to identify the URL requested by a user. A URL, which
stands for “Uniform Resource Locator,” is the address of a page on the world wide web. URLs
specify the host server name, directory, and file name of the Web page that a user seeks to visit.
The NebuAd System also used DPI to access cookies sent to and from advertising
networks, as well as the URL of the “referer” page, i.e., the web page received by the user’s
computer immediately prior to its request for a new page. A cookie is a piece of text, usually
encrypted, that is sent to a user’s computer by a website. When the user later returns to the
website, the website recognizes the cookie and thus is able to track a user’s behavior over time.
Cookies are regularly used on the Internet to store site preferences, retain a user’s shopping cart
contents, or, in the case of advertising networks, allow the advertising network to recognize the
same user across a wide array of different websites. The advertising network cookies observed
by the NebuAd system were typically encrypted, meaning they would have appeared as a long
string of numbers and letters that were unreadable, so the NebuAd System did not extract any
information from them.
The NebuAd System used the long string of numbers and letters constituting an
advertising network cookie to help create an anonymized identification number it assigned to
each user’s computer. The System created a profile linked to the anonymized identification
number. Profiles were associated with a user’s computer solely through the anonymized
identifier number that the NebuAd System had assigned. NebuAd designed its System with the
intention that it would not have been possible to “reverse engineer” its anonymized identifier
numbers and identify the actual users associated with them. There is no evidence that anyone
ever attempted or succeeded in identifying any actual users associated with the identifier
numbers or the profiles created by the NebuAd System. A profile stored information concerning
what the NebuAd System had inferred to be a user’s market interests, based upon the URLs it
obtained. When the NebuAd System saw a URL that had previously been identified as reflecting
a certain market interest, the computers in the NebuAd System converted the URL into a code
signifying a market interest and then deleted the raw data. The NebuAd System then created or
updated a profile to reflect the market interests it observed. The process of converting a URL
into a code signifying a market interest and then deleting the raw data likely took microseconds,
and no more than a minute. The process of extracting URLs, converting them to predefined
market interests, and updating user profiles was entirely automated and involved no human
intervention. The targeted advertisements that the NebuAd System served were based upon the
de-identified profiles it had constructed.
NebuAd remotely configured the UTA to make the device operable. Thereafter, the
NebuAd System collected information, created de-identified user profiles and served ads.
Plaintiffs’ expert, Alissa Cooper, testified that her understanding of Embarq’s role with respect
to the NebuAd System as the ISP was that Embarq “furnished the connection to the NebuAd
equipment, so, it essentially connected its users to the UTA, and it connected the UTA to the rest
of its networks.” Cooper testified that there was no other involvement by the ISP, other than it
was paid, and that Embarq did not serve any advertisements based upon the user profiles
developed by the NebuAd System. Cooper further testified that Embarq did not have access to
the data collected or the user profiles developed by the NebuAd System, and that any access
Embarq had to the raw data was access that any ISP ordinarily has to raw data that flows through
the ISP’s network.19
As a condition of the High-Speed Internet Activation Customer Agreement (“Activation
Agreement”), Embarq subscribers were required to agree to the terms of Embarq’s Privacy
Policy.20 The Activation Agreement states that
EMBARQ’S network gathers information about Internet usage
such as the sites visited, session lengths, bit rates, and number of
messages and bytes passes. EMBARQ uses this information in the
aggregate. EMBARQ may share this aggregated information with
other parties from time to time. EMBARQ also collects and uses
personally identifiable information obtained from you and from
other sources for billing purposes, to provide and change service,
to anticipate and resolve problems with your service, or to identify,
create and inform you of products and services that better meet
your needs. Except as otherwise provided in this Section,
EMBARQ will not use or disclose any of your personally
identifiable information unless compelled by a court order or
subpoena, you consent to the use of disclosure, or to protect its
broadband services and facilities. . . . EMBARQ’s provision of
Services to you is also subject to EMBARQ’s broadband privacy
policies, which are found at
are hereby incorporated by reference.21
The Activation Agreement informed subscribers that “EMBARQ may revise, modify or
discontinue any or all aspects of the Services, including but not limited to . . . any terms of this
Agreement, upon posting of the new terms on the EMBARQ website at www.EMBARQ.com.”
The Activation Agreement states that it “is a legally binding contract that should be read in its
Doc. 60, Ex. 6.
Doc. 60, Ex. 2-A.
entirety,” and instructs customers to click on the “accept” button if they agree with each and
every term set forth in the Activation Agreement.22
further states that Embarq could disclose to third party business partners “customer proprietary
network information,” (“CPNI”), which is defined to include “the websites you visit,” to enable
“EMBARQ does not disclose CPNI and other nonpublic personal information (such as credit
card numbers), without your consent or direction, except to business partners involved in
providing EMBARQ service to customers or as required or permitted by law.” Subscribers were
specifically that “[i]f at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a
manner that is materially different from what was stated at the time it was collected, we will
notify you via posting on this page for 30 days before the material change is made and give you
an opportunity to opt out of the proposed use at any time.”
“USE OF PERSONAL INFORMATION” a paragraph entitled, “Preference Advertising” that
Embarq may use information such as the websites you visit or
online searches that you conduct to deliver or facilitate the delivery
of targeted advertisements. The delivery of these advertisements
will be based on anonymous surfing behavior and will not include
users’ names, email addresses, telephone numbers, or any other
Personally Identifiable Information.
You may choose to opt out of this preference advertising service.
By opting out, you will continue to receive advertisements as
normal; but these advertisements will be less relevant and less
useful to you. If you would like to opt out, click here.
Although all traffic, including that of customers who opted out, flowed through the UTA, by
System would not create a profile of that subscriber and would not serve any targeted
advertisements to that subscriber. Plaintiffs did not opt out of the Preference Advertising
that she did not make a practice of reviewing privacy policies of any Internet service she signed
up for or websites that she visited. Instead, she just clicked “I agree,” and continued on to the
site. Kirch further testified that she understood that when she did so, she was bound by the terms
of the policy.23
Plaintiffs, representing a putative class, allege that for a period exceeding ninety days in
2008, Embarq, as an ISP, collected and diverted approximately 26,000 of its Gardner, Kansas
customers’ internet communications to NebuAd, a third-party internet advertising company, who
used the information to target the customers with advertisements. Plaintiffs allege Embarq’s
actions constitute a violation of Title II of the ECPA, which Act amended the Wiretap Act, 18
U.S.C. § 2510 et seq. 18 U.S.C. § 2511(1)(a) provides for criminal penalties where a person
Doc. 60 at Ex. 10.
“intentionally intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept or
endeavor to intercept, any wire, oral, or electronic communication,” as well as where one person
“intentionally discloses” to another, or “intentionally uses or endeavors to use, the contents of
any . . . electronic communication, knowing or having reason to know that the information was
obtained through the interception of a[n] electronic communication.” By contrast, the civil
liability provision set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 2520 states that “any person whose wire, oral, or
electronic communication is intercepted, disclosed, or intentionally used in violation of this
chapter may in a civil action recover from the person or entity which engaged in that violation.”
Embarq argues that it cannot be held civilly liable under the ECPA because § 2520(a)
does not provide for liability of aiders and abettors and that Embarq itself did not intercept
plaintiffs’ electronic communications in violation of the ECPA. Alternatively, Embarq argues
that even if it had intercepted an electronic communication, plaintiffs consented to the
interception and use of their electronic communications. The Court addresses each issue in turn.
Plaintiffs argue that the NebuAd System violated the ECPA because it intercepted or
acquired the “contents” of Embarq’s customers’ Internet communications. Highly simplified,
plaintiffs assert that “the UTA intercepted and analyzed all of the traffic that passed through it.”
Embarq counters that the UTA merely identified the port number of a communication and the
URLs acquired by the NebuAd System were functionally no different from a telephone number
acquired by a pen register; it is merely the address of the webpage requested by the user, not the
webpage itself, and thus is a “means of establishing communication.”24 The Court need not
See New York Tele. Co., 434 U.S. at 167.
resolve this issue, however, because even assuming plaintiffs’ position is correct, Embarq cannot
be held secondarily liable for having aided and abetted NebuAd’s alleged interception.
Plaintiffs argue that Embarq intercepted communications by routing them to NebuAd’s
UTA. The term “intercept” is specifically defined by the ECPA to mean the “acquisition of the
contents” of a communication.”25 “Contents” is defined to mean “the substance, purport, or
meaning of that communication.”26 Although the term “acquisition” is not defined by the statute,
“to acquire” commonly means “to come into possession, control, or power of disposal.”27 Thus,
it follows that in order to “intercept” a communication, one must come into possession or control
of the substance, purport, or meaning of that communication. The Court agrees with Embarq
that regardless of what information the NebuAd System extracted from the communications
traversing through the UTA, it is undisputed that Embarq had no access to that information or to
the profiles constructed from that information.28 As plaintiffs’ expert testified, Embarq’s role
was to install the NebuAd device so as to furnish the UTA connection to NebuAd. In other
words, the NebuAd device, or “box,” goes into place, then all of the raw data that flows through
Embarq is directed to that device, where NebuAd does the analysis and, apparently, separates out
the Port 80 traffic. Moreover, plaintiffs cite no authority that Embarq’s access to the raw data
that flowed through its network constitutes a violation of the ECPA, which requires an entity to
18 U.S.C. § 2510(4).
18 U.S.C. § 2510(8).
WEBSTER’S THIRD NEW INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY UNABRIDGED 18-19 (1986).
Incredibly, at oral argument, plaintiffs’ counsel went so far as to claim that Embarq employees reviewed
the raw data and transported information of their choosing to NebuAd. Plaintiffs do not cite, nor could the Court
locate, anything in the record to support this assertion, which is contradicted by testimony of plaintiffs’ experts.
actually acquire the contents of those communications. There is nothing in the record that
Embarq itself acquired the contents of any communications as they flowed through its network;
instead, plaintiffs’ theory rests on the notion that the NebuAd System extracted the contents of
the communications. Plaintiffs’ assertion that Embarq “endeavored to intercept”
communications falls short of creating civil liability under the ECPA, which creates liability for
In an apparent effort to avoid this result, plaintiffs seek to hold Embarq secondarily liable
based upon its contractual relationship with NebuAd, emphasizing that Embarq licensed the
UTA owned by NebuAd and allowed NebuAd to access its network. Plaintiffs, in effect, seek to
hold Embarq indirectly liable as a procurer, aider, abettor, or co-conspirator of NebuAd’s alleged
violation of the ECPA. The civil liability provision of the ECPA, however, does not provide for
secondary liability, as liability attaches only to the party that actually intercepted a
communication.29 As numerous courts have consistently held, a defendant does not “intercept” a
communication merely by allowing or enabling, or even directing, another party to intercept
communications.30 For example, in In re Toys R Us, Inc., Privacy Litigation,31 plaintiffs sought
to hold Toys R Us liable under the Wiretap Act for permitting a third party, Coremetrics, to load
18 U.S.C. § 2520.
See, e.g., Freeman v. DirectTV, Inc., 457 F.3d 1001, 1005-06 (9th Cir. 2006) (rejecting the argument that
“a person or entity who aids and abets or who enters into a conspiracy is someone or something that is ‘engaged’ in a
violation.”); Doe v. GTE Corp., 347 F.3d 655, 658 (7th Cir. 2003) (“[N]othing in the statute condemns assistants, as
opposed to those who directly perpetrate the act.”); Peavy v. WFAA-TV, Inc., 221 F.3d 158, 168-69 (5th Cir. 2000)
(same); Reynolds v. Spears, 93 F.3d 428, 432-33 (8th Cir. 1996); Crowley v. CyberSource Corp., 166 F. Supp. 2d
1263, 1269 (N.D. Cal. 2001); Perkins-Carillo v. Systemax, Inc., No. 03-2836, 2006 WL 1553957 (N.D. Ga. May 26,
2006); In re Toys R Us, Inc., Privacy Litig., No. 00-2746, 2001 WL 34517252, at *6-7 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 9, 2001).
2001 WL 34517252.
“Web bugs” onto the computers of visitors to Toys R Us’ website.32 Coremetrics was in the
business of tracking Internet users’ buying and websurfing habits, and its device enabled it to
“monitor, intercept, transmit, and record all aspects of a Webuser’s private activity when they
access Toys R Us’ Webpages or other Webpages.”33 The district court granted Toys R Us’
motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ Wiretap Act claim, holding that the “plain language of § 2205(a)
now limits its applicability to those who ‘intercept,’ ‘disclose,’ or ‘use’ the communications at
issue” and that Toys R Us could not be held liable because there was no allegation that Toys R
Us itself intercepted any communications.34 Such is the case here, and plaintiffs cite no authority
to the contrary.
Because the record shows that Embarq did not acquire any of the information obtained by
the NebuAd System, under the plain language of the ECPA, Embarq did not itself intercept any
communications and cannot be held secondarily liable. Accordingly, Embarq is entitled to
summary judgment on this ground.
Embarq is also independently entitled to summary judgment based on plaintiffs’ consent,
which is expressly excluded from the category of “unlawful interceptions.”35 In two other cases
brought by plaintiffs’ law firm arising out of NebuAd System tests conducted in Montana, the
Id. at *6-7.
Id. at *1.
Id. at *6-7.
18 U.S.C. § 2511(2)(d) (no liability “where one of the parties to the communication has given prior
consent to such interception.”).
district court dismissed the ECPA count based on similar language contained in the ISPs’
privacy policies.36 In those cases, the court considered the Terms of Service documents of the
ISPs, and found that the plaintiff Internet subscribers were put on notice of the NebuAd
monitoring via the defendant ISPs’ updates to those terms.37 As the court explained, because that
document indicated that “[u]se of [the ISP’s] Internet access services was expressly subject to
the [Terms of Service]” and the plaintiff continued to use the Internet, he was bound by the
changes to the agreement and impliedly consented to the monitoring of his Internet activity.38
Likewise, the Court finds that in this case plaintiffs consented to the use by third parties of their
de-identified web-browsing behavior when they accessed the Internet under the terms of
Embarq’s Activation Agreement informed subscribers that “EMBARQ may revise,
modify or discontinue any or all aspects of the Services, including but not limited to . . . any
terms of this Agreement, upon posting of the new terms on the EMBARQ website at
www.EMBARQ.com.” Plaintiffs do not dispute that, in advance of the NebuAd test, Embarq
informed subscribers that “Embarq may use information such as the websites you visit or online
searches that you conduct to deliver or facilitate the delivery of targeted advertisements. The
delivery of these advertisements will be based on anonymous surfing behavior.” Subscribers
See Deering v. CenturyTel, Inc., No. 10-63-BLG-RFC, 2011 WL 1842859 (D. Mont. May 16, 2011);
Mortensen v. Bresnan Commc’ns, L.L.C., No. 10-13-BLG-RFC, 2010 WL 5140454 (D. Mont. Dec. 13, 2010). A
similar motion to dismiss on consent grounds is pending in yet another NebuAd case filed in Illinois, Valentine v.
Wideopen West Fin., LLC, Case No. 09-cv-7653 (E.D. Ill.).
See Deering, 2011 WL 1842859, at *1-3, Mortensen, 2010 WL 5140454, at *4-5.
Deering, 2011 WL 1842859, at *1-3.
Embarq would automatically “log the websites you visit,” and that such information, which
constitutes CPNI, could be shared with “business partners involved in providing EMBARQ
service to customers.” Thus, as with the Montana cases, plaintiffs consented to monitoring by
using Embarq’s Internet service after notice, and that notice and consent defeats their ECPA
Nevertheless, plaintiffs assert several reasons why their use of Embarq’s Internet service
did not constitute consent to the NebuAd test. The Court will briefly address these arguments,
which are without merit. First, plaintiffs argue that the scope of the disclosure was inadequate
because NebuAd is not identified specifically as a third party with which information might be
shared. Plaintiffs cite no authority requiring such specific disclosure, and fail to address the fact
visits might be shared with third parties. While it is true that NebuAd was identified specifically
in one of the cases,39 the Montana court did not appear to make such a distinction, instead
focusing on the fact that the terms of the agreements and privacy policies in those cases existed
and were in effect before the NebuAd test, and also mentioned third parties generally.40 Second,
plaintiffs’ argument that the notice was not conspicuous enough is belied by their admission that
the prevailing industry practice among websites is to disclose their relationship with advertising
Id. at *2.
Id. at *2-3; Mortensen, 2010 WL 5140454, at *5.
networks and the type of information those networks collect, in their privacy policies. Plaintiffs
cite no authority that such method of disclosure is inadequate, and the Montana case decisions
dismissing on the ground of consent hold to the contrary.41 Finally, plaintiffs’ argument that the
opt-out mechanism was insufficient because it did not prevent the NebuAd System’s collection
of data does not negate their consent because they did not attempt to opt out. Plaintiffs do not
dispute that the opt-out mechanism was effective in that, by opting out, subscribers did not
receive any targeted advertising.
In sum, plaintiffs were required to agree to the terms of the Activation Agreement in
order to use Embarq’s Internet service; that Agreement incorporated the terms of the Privacy
Policy, which informed subscribers that their de-identified data could be shared with third
parties; that Agreement informed subscribers that the terms could be changed at any time
through posting a new policy at Embarq’s website; and Embarq modified those terms in advance
of the NebuAd test to add a paragraph regarding preference advertising, with an opt-out
mechanism. For these reasons, the Court joins with the Montana court in concluding that
plaintiffs gave or acquiesced their consent to any monitoring or interception of their Internet
activity, and summary judgment is granted on this ground.42
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED BY THE COURT that defendants’ Motion for
Because the Court grants summary judgment on secondary liability and consent grounds, it does not reach
the issue of Embarq’s alternative “ordinary course of business” defense. The Court notes that this defense also
appears to have merit, as plaintiffs have admitted that Embarq conducted the NebuAd test to further legitimate
business purposes and that behavioral advertising is a widespread business and is commonplace on the Internet. 18
U.S.C. § 2510(4) requires an interception must take place “through the use of any electronic, mechanical, or other
device”; that phrase is defined to exclude “any device or apparatus which can be used to intercept a[n] . . . electronic
communication” that is “being used by a provider of wire or electronic communication device in the ordinary course
of business.” Id. § 2510(5)(a)(ii).
Summary Judgment (Doc. 59) is GRANTED;
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiffs’ Motion to Certify Class (Doc. 31) is
DENIED as moot.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: August 19, 2011
S/ Julie A. Robinson
JULIE A. ROBINSON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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