Your Netflix watching habits automatically broadcast to Facebook? It’s coming.

Netflix frictionless sharing on Facebook

 Update: President Obama signed the amendments we discuss below into law on January 10, 2013.

Remember when Spotify first came out and everyone on your Facebook news feed was spamming you with what they were listening to? Most of them didn’t even realize they were doing it, and people were annoyed all around. Well, get ready for the same thing to happen…with what people are watching on Netflix.

A revised version of the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) has already passed both the House and the Senate. All it needs is President Obama’s signature, and he’s said publicly that he’s going to do it.

At the same time Congress was making it easier to publicize the movies you watch, the Senate dropped a provision from the same bill that would have required police to get a warrant to access citizens’ emails older than 6 months (the weak protection that unveiled the General Petraeus affair). In the end, we have less protection for what we watch and the same low protection for our email inboxes. Not a good week for online privacy.

Sharing the list of movies & TV shows watched on Netflix was previously illegal because of the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988. The history around the VPPA is really interesting–judge Robert Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court, and his opponents went around trying to dig up personal dirt on him anywhere they could, including the list of movies he’d rented at his local video store. Nothing controversial showed up, but the public reacted with shock and disgust that someone’s rental list could be publicly exploited like that.

Enter the VPPA, which provided strong privacy protection for a person’s rental/watch list. The VPPA made it mandatory to get someone’s explicit approval every time you wanted to share their rental list (that, or you’d need a warrant).

The recent amendments allow someone to give this approval online, and only once every 2 years. Netflix spent half a million dollars lobbying Congress on the bill.

Would you be okay with everyone knowing the things you watch?

Although this isn’t actually a law yet–President Obama still has to sign it–the change in the law allows Netflix users to opt-in to frictionless sharing on Facebook. That means that everything a person watches will automatically post to Facebook. It’ll be a lot like how people constantly barrage Facebook with what they’re listening to on Spotify. As part of the law, Netflix will have to give people a “clear and conspicuous” option to stop sharing and will also have to check in with people who have opted in every 2 years. The company said they’re planning on introducing this social sharing feature in 2013.

It’s good that this choice is opt-in, but it’s unlikely that most people realize how their movie-watching history or their movie ratings on Netflix could personally identify them. In the now famous Netflix study, researchers were able to identify 99% of people in Netflix’s supposedly anonymized user database just by looking at when and how a user rated six movies, then cross-referencing those ratings against the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). And of course, automatically sharing everything you watch could dissuade people from watching more controversial (but still valuable) things, like political or religious documentaries.

Would you opt in to letting Netflix auto-share everything you watch on Facebook? Are you looking forward to–or dreading–seeing what everyone you know is watching?

9 comments shared on this article:

  • Yakub mohamed says:

    THe more info i get about facebook the urgent need. There is to educate the youth who are. Addicted to f/b i for one hardly use facebook and will stop alltogether. Thanks for the. Alerts

  • Techmonster says:

    I do NOT use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, NetFlix or ANY other “social-media” related online service. Never have, and never will. I also always make it a point to spell-out out the security/privacy-invasion issues with such services to everyone I know. These types of services are garbage and serve no other purpose other than to violate your privacy, as well as document and profile as many people as they can, under the ridiculous mickey-mouse guise of “stay connected with everyone on Earth”.

    Additionally, I also pay Abine for their DeleteMe privacy erasure services to remove ANY personal information of mine from the net. And, NO, this viewpoint does NOT insinuate someone “has something to hide”. It’s called highly valuing and demanding my right to privacy.

    If you use such online “social” services and end up loosing a job, a job-interview, or your identity, you have nobody to whine to except yourself.

    • Georgeddiaz says:

      Netflix is not social media. This option is to allow you to share things in a social network, which IS social media. As stated in the article, it is opt-in, so you have to go out of your way to begin sharing such things with other networks.

  • notaLib says:

    WTF?! Obama gets more senile and socialistic everyday.

    • Smelly says:

      You need to look up the term “socialistic” in the dictionary.

      Pandering to big business is the EXACT OPPOSITE of being a socialist (which btw Obama isnt – regardless of when Fox news tells you)

      • BRBJR says:

        Well let’s look at socialism for a second 1) From each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution. Emphasis on profit being distributed among the society or workforce in addition to receiving a wage. Wealth redistributed so that everyone in society is given somewhat equal shares of the benefits derived from labor. Obama already said that he wants to distribute the money from the rich and give it to the poor. The list goes on and on. Read up on it and you too will see for your self. When laws like these that are passed like the one mentioned in this article, one more piece of our freedom goes with it. We all have the freedom of privacy, whether it is this or the Patriot Act, why do good Americans like you and me sit back and let the pin heads in Washington screw this great country up.

  • Chef Matthew Martin says:

    Thats complete crap. Privacy is disappearing and we need to fight to get it back.

  • David says:

    Since this law has been signed. Does this mean that Facebook must ask our permission to share this info first? Does “Do Not Track Me” block this from Netflix?

    • Sarah Downey says:

      It means that Netflix will have to ask you for permission to share your watching history on Facebook, not the other way around. DoNotTrackMe won’t be able to do anything about that interaction between Netflix and Facebook. Basically, it’s up to you, the user, to say no to Netflix when that question about sharing comes up.

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