Judge denies Amazon’s bid to withhold customer data in hair-loss lawsuit

The local skirmish in a class-action lawsuit against Wen pitted Amazon’s zealous views on consumer privacy against the plaintiffs’ need to inform buyers of a settlement over the product.

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A federal judge in Seattle has ordered Amazon to surrender a list of customers who bought WEN hair-care products so attorneys in a class-action settlement over hair loss and other woes can notify those shoppers.

The case highlights how Amazon’s zealous views on consumer privacy are being put to the test by the company’s success as a retailer, which makes it an attractive repository of customer data.

Amazon is not a party to the $26 million settlement between the makers of WEN products and the plaintiffs in a California court.

That agreement, reached in July, would provide $25 to any person who bought or used WEN products, which the plaintiffs allege produced hair loss and scalp irritation. Those who suffered adverse reactions can claim up to $20,000.

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The case has been at the center of a wide-ranging debate about government regulation of the cosmetics industry.

Amazon became involved because attorneys for the plaintiffs wanted to send a settlement notice to those who bought WEN products via Amazon, and got a subpoena for their names and contact information.

In court filings, the plaintiffs said QVC, Sephora and Overstock agreed to provide the customer data. But Amazon declined to disclose its customers’ identities and contact info on privacy grounds, and asked for a court ruling here to protect it from the subpoena.

Also, it said acquiescing might lead to many similar requests, creating a “cumulative burden.”

Amazon’s lawyers say the expense to the company and the customers’ loss of privacy exceeds “any minimal value that confidential information might have” to the plaintiffs requesting it. Amazon declined to comment for this story.

Wednesday, Judge James L. Robart rejected Amazon’s arguments, according to court records.

The lawyers suing WEN contended providing that information to a settlement administrator doesn’t violate Amazon’s privacy policy, both because it’s compelled by lawfully issued subpoena and because the information won’t be used for commercial purposes. The plaintiffs also argue that for a big company like Amazon, it’s not a huge deal to run “a basic database query.”


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