Quoted: on Netflix and video-rental privacy in the social age

“I worry about a loss of privacy because of the claimed benefit of ‘simplicity.’ This claim strikes me like the claim we often hear in large corporate merger proposals about so-called ‘efficiencies.’ Netflix announced a simpler billing practice a few months ago regarding its various services, and its customers rebelled.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., doesn’t pull punches in expressing reservations about the Netflix-backed push to amend the Video Privacy Protection Act. The VPPA prohibits sharing of consumers’ video-rental information without explicit consent, something that has kept Netflix from taking advantage of its ties with Facebook — where, for better or for worse, many users share what music they’re listening to, what news articles they’re reading and much more. CEO Reed Hastings last year cited the 1980s-era law when he announced streaming integration on Facebook in every other country Netflix is available except the United States. (See Tech’s quotable week…) The sticking point Tuesday during the hearing on Capitol Hill before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law (the House passed the amendment in December): The amendment would allow Netflix and others to use a blanket opt-in system. Privacy advocates and skeptical senators asked why Netflix couldn’t allow people to share their viewing habits on a title-by-title basis. Said EPIC’s Marc Rotenberg, who testified Tuesday, according to the Hillicon Valley blog: “Consumers likely do not plan movie choices months in advance, and likely will not recall that their consent to share their innocuous children’s movie selection will also apply to their more provocative selections.” The Electronic Privacy Protection Center is recommending, among other things, that the law be updated to allow consumers to see the video-rental information being collected about them, and that companies be required to encrypt that data.


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  • Bryan

    I’ll stop pirating video when the entertainment industry stops preceding the DVDs I pay for with 10 minutes of mandatory advertising.