Customer Data and Your Duty: How GolfNow's Latest Legal Troubles Can Serve as an Important Reminder


By Michael Williams, Contributor, Golf Business 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I got my first job out of college with MCI Mail, the first commercial email service. It ultimately failed because, well, hardly anyone had a computer at home. Yes, I am old.

My first boss was the guy who actually did invent the internet (Vinton Cerf, look him up). At that time, not even he could imagine the impact that universal connectivity would have in our daily lives.

Now we are all on the internet every day, connecting with sites for business and entertainment. And the truth is that we are being watched. Digital companies capture precious information about us. Our likes and our dislikes, our health, our tendencies and preferences, and especially where we spend our time and our money. All that is fine if you agree to it. But if companies decide to collect that information without your consent, it becomes a very modern and very personal violation. And it becomes an even greater transgression when the party that vacuumed up your digital footprint chooses to sell it on the open market to all and sundry.

A high-profile case of this behavior recently surfaced in the golf industry. GolfNow, LLC and NBCUniversal Media, which together operate content provider, was named in a potential class action suit for sharing data with Facebook. According to the legal website, when a subscriber uses, the tracking tool sends to Facebook the title and URL of any videos the user views and their Facebook ID—a unique identifier linked to an individual’s Facebook profile. Importantly, by sharing a consumer’s Facebook ID, "the golf platform provides enough data to link the individual’s identity to their video-viewing history”.

According to the suit, and its related companies did not disclose the use of the tracking tool to subscribers, nor did they obtain consent from users to share their private data with Facebook, thereby depriving users of their rights under the VPPA” by sharing their protected data with the third party.

While there are not many enterprises that have a following as large as, the case should capture the attention of any size operator in today’s golf world. Single property owners to multi-course titans, private clubs to municipal tracks; all of them are capturing data in some form. Whether it is on property or online, customers are providing data that will help operators provide a better experience. At the same time, there is an implied level of trust that is placed with operators to use that information for the benefit of the user that provided it. 

In an age where information is everything, operators need to be keenly aware of how their customer data is handled. Two basic concepts are protection and distribution. The first responsibility is to protect the data from outside hackers, data thieves and other bad actors. A data breach that divulges sensitive customer information can damage the reputation of any business in any industry. The second concept of distribution is deciding if your customer information is going to be shared and who it is shared with. Operators need to be keenly aware of any provisions in their technology agreements that involve data sharing. Getting an expensive attorney to screen contracts for such clauses may seem like a big expense, but it is far less costly than the legal costs and potential settlement or judgement costs from litigation. Operators must understand customer data is just like the physical customer; it must be treated with care and respect at all times. And if it isn’t, there is a price to be paid.


▶︎ Golf Business LIVE Episodes

Michael Williams is a contributor for Golf Business, host of Golf Business LIVE, and is the Executive Director for Cyrano Communications (Washington, DC). He is also a contributor for Voice of America (Washington, DC), a member of the USGA Golf Journal Editorial Board, and a contributor for In 2005, Michael launched his first radio show on FOX News Radio Sticks and Stones, a critically acclaimed show that covered golf, business and politics. Since that launch, Michael has established a reputation as a savvy broadcaster and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Michael has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, business, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world.

** The views and opinions featured in Golf Business WEEKLY are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the NGCOA.**