When 42-year-old Brion Finlay of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, was looking for a job last fall, he Googled himself and was shocked to find a profile on the MyLife website falsely claiming he was a sex offender with a criminal background. Fearing the allegation could tarnish his reputation and cost him a job offer, Finley is now the lead plaintiff in a federal class-action lawsuit against MyLife. The suit alleges the website defames consumers, violates consumer protection laws, and posts untrue statements online in hopes that people will pay money to cleanse their profiles.
The lawsuit further alleges MyLife editorialized and put its own (negative) spin on information pulled from public records. In Finlay’s case, the site allegedly characterized his traffic ticket as a “criminal or arrest record.” In a March ruling, Minnesota federal Judge Susan Nelson stated that MyLife’s profiles and Reputation Scores amount to a “consumer report.” Because the website operates as a consumer reporting agency, it can be sued under Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) provisions and for defamation of character.
Unlike on most social media platforms, consumers don’t create their own profiles on MyLife. Instead, the website builds profiles for people from information obtained from public records, then generates its own “reputation ratings.” In Finlay’s case, MyLife gave him a “poor” reputation score of 2.32 and offered users a chance to view his “Court, Arrest or Criminal Records” detailed on his profile, with the disclaimer that it may contain “graphic content and sensitive details.” This “teaser” prompted users to believe that Finlay is a sex offender, which he is not, according to court documents.
According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, MyLife’s “prominent ‘View’ buttons, together with statements that the searched-for person ‘may have’ arrest, criminal, or sex offender records, led users to conclude that the person had such records, even if they did not.” Many people reported they bought subscriptions to MyLife to see the records, the FTC said. In September 2019, an individual claiming that MyLife sends mass solicitation emails to the public stating that “someone” is searching for them online and requesting a fee to look at the reports filed a class-action lawsuit against the site.
Finlay claims MyLife includes this information in profiles to harm people’s reputations and incentivize them to pay to have their profiles repaired, which amounts to offering them the option of having the information removed – for a fee. MyLife allegedly sells this information to third parties for employment screening and other purposes. Finlay’s complaint alleges MyLife skirted its obligations under the FCRA by failing to ensure the information it sold is accurate and is being used only for legally permissible purposes. Inaccurate information in a consumer report can cost consumers a job, housing and financing opportunities.
The lawsuit also claims that MyLife violated the provisions of the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA) by selling subscriptions through auto-renewal (negative option) plans, which trigger the obligation to comply with ROSCA’s requirements, including clearly disclosing all material terms of a deal before gathering a consumer’s billing information and providing them with a simple option for stopping all recurring charges.
Finlay is not the first consumer to sustain reputational damage at the hands of MyLife. Financial advice website Clark.com provides detailed steps on removing personal information from MyLife.com, including a phone number, email address and a template outlining precisely what to say in your email to MyLife.com to get them to remove false, misleading and deceptive information from your profile. Clark’s proposed template ends with the statement, “If you don’t respond with a confirmation that my profile and all subsequent personal data has been removed, I will take legal action.”
For Finlay and approximately 14,000 others who have made complaints about MyLife to the Better Business Bureau in the past three years, this might not be an idle threat.