Archive for December, 2012

Netflix Meets Facebook in the House

In my previous post, I discussed legislation that would allow Netflix to create a Facebook app that would (with your permission) publish your viewing history in your news feed. The legislation was responding to the Video Privacy Protection Act, which was passed in the wake of Robert Bork’s contentious Supreme Court nomination fight, prohibited video rental companies from publishing this information without the written permission of the customer.

But in a new wrinkle, the House version of this bill, sponsored by Virginia Republican, Bob Goodlatte, not only allows Netflix users to automatically share what they watch but also enables law enforcement officials to read individuals’ emails (or any other information based in the computing cloud, such as private social media postings) without obtaining a search warrant. There are some aspects of the bill that seem quite positive–Netflix and other services would be required to provide “clear and conspicuous” ways for users to opt out of sharing–but the loss of protections against private online communication is a big concern.

The Senate version of this bill includes those protections, but the ACLU (among other groups) has expressed concern about the risks to individual privacy when it comes to electronic communication. The Senate bill would already create tremendous value for Netflix and Facebook, who could obtain even more personal data about their customers (and I would likely opt out of any automated sharing, if only to avoid spamming my friends’ news feeds), but the House version of the bill erodes privacy rights considerably further.

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Netflix Meets Facebook

One of the quirks of digital movie rentals has been a legal impediment that prevented Netflix from integrating with Facebook and other social media sites. The challenge Netflix faced was a law, the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act, but known informally as “Bork’s Law” because it was passed in the wake of Bork’s contentious Supreme Court nomination process. During the confirmation hearings, the Washington DC City Paper, an alternative weekly, obtained Bork’s movie rental records and published an article about them. Although his movie choices were relatively innocuous, it was rightfully seen as an invasion of privacy, and Bork’s Law was passed as a result. The result of that law was that Netflix was reluctant to create a Facebook app that would automatically post someone’s video rental or viewing activity.

Now, after several years of lobbying, the Senate has passed a bill creating an exception to this privacy loophole. According to Ars Technica the bill clarifies two areas of concern that Netflix faced. First, it makes clear that consent for sharing rental histories can be conducted over the Internet. Previously, this required written consent. Second, consent can be given for up to two years, rather than on a case-by-case basis. So, it’s probably safe to expect that Netflix will have a Facebook app in place relatively soon, opening up the potential that you will be alerted every time one of your friends binge watches an episode of Breaking Bad.

That said, if I remember correctly, the Facebook app would also allow Netflix to individualize accounts even further, especially given the practice of shared accounts. My tastes are obviously quite a bit different than other members of my family, which would mean that if I were to integrate Netflix and Facebook, I’d want to avoid broadcasting what they watched using a household account in my name. People already have a number of mechanisms for social sharing–GetGlue, Miso, etc–and typically volunteer this information when they want to share it. Social media is already the new “water cooler” for talking about TV and movies, so integrating something automatic seems likely to capture only a narrow group of users. In addition, given the continued ambiguities about privacy–expressed in part through the Facebook memes where people ask you to make their status updates private–suggest that many Netflix and Facebook users will opt out of this frictionless form of sharing (there’s actually quite a bit of research that supports this notion).

The bill still hasn’t been signed by President Obama, so there is still a ways to go before it becomes law. It seems like a reasonable update, as long as people are able to protect their privacy, but I think it also opens up the possibility for Netflix to engage in even more individualized forms of media recommendations.

 

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Redbox at Home

Just a quick note to point out that new details have emerged about the Redbox streaming video service. New Tee Vee reports that monthly subscriptions start at $6 a month, and that an $8 monthly subscription will also entitle users to four credits for kiosk rentals. Users will be able to access their Redbox streaming accounts from up to five devices, and the service will also offer video-on-demand rentals for as low as 99 cents. When I was completing my journal article on Redbox for the Canadian Journal of Film Studies, I finished by pointing out that Redbox would eventually move into streaming, so it will be interesting to see how they complement/compete with Netflix, YouTube, and others who are already doing streaming. If their listed prices are any indication, it’s possible that the service will continue to drive down the perceived value of digital video rentals and purchases even further.

Also worth noting is the fact that Redbox, rather than paying a flat fee for content (like Netflix does), will be paying for content based on the number of subscribers, a move that several studio executives have opposed in the past. Home Media Magazine has a good overview of some of the industrial implications of Redbox streaming.

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