Netflix is already in some hot water with its 24 million users over recent price changes. But there is a bigger problem the video rental company is having with a 1988 privacy law originally intended for video rental stores. The Video Privacy Protection Act forbids movie rental companies from being able to share what movies its customers have rented in the past. The law came down after a newspaper company revealed some video rental records of Robert Bork, who was hoping to serve on the Supreme Court for the United States.
Privacy concerns become a bigger issue now that Netflix is trying to integrate with Facebook so you can allow your Facebook friends to automatically know what movie you are watching, liked, and what movies you have seen in the past. It might sound like a neat way to keep up with what your friends are watching, but with major privacy concerns and the 1988 law looming over Netflix, even the FTC has expressed concerns over this social interaction.
This is not the first time Netflix has faced privacy issues with the FTC, however. Recently, Netflix ran a contest for analysts to examine over 500,000 Netflix users and their movie watching habits, to try to predict what movies they would want to see next. For the company it was a huge success, but when the FTC put their foot down, Netflix had to cancel their second attempt to run a similar contest.
According to the Video Privacy Protection Act, someone who rents a video has to sign a consent form in order for the video rental company to be able to reveal what movies that person has rented from them, and now that Facebook is wanting to reveal this information without a consent form, it is causing quite a stir with privacy activists. Netflix is claiming that the law is too generic to apply to their situation, but they are not the only ones facing privacy issues over this right now. Facebook has already been to this rodeo before. In 2007, Facebook’s integration with Blockbuster revealed what users were watching on the video rental site, and the result was a big, fat lawsuit. The social networking giant also revealed other activity from a user when visiting websites other than Facebook, but the case was eventually resolved with a settlement.
Netflix users need to know that the company keeps a record of every movie you rent from them. And it’s not quite as anonymous as you might think. Even though the 1988 VPPA law is restricting the video rental company from distributing your renting habits now, this could all change in the near future, as privacy becomes a more difficult thing to protect. It seems that privacy is always the thing needs to be sacrificed in order for technology to march on, but hopefully advancements in the protection of privacy will also stem from the surge of technological achievement. Until then, Netflix will keep trying to find a way to integrate with Facebook, as this would greatly increase their exposure. Although, according to their fanpage, many Netflix users are still angry at the price increase and they are not likely to be a source of much sympathy.