Netflix, Facebook and the law

Screenshot of Netflix's page on Facebook.

Debra Aho Williamson from eMarketer says social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are already transforming how many of us watch television. She points out that this year, millions watched the royal wedding on the tube while simultaneously talking on Twitter and Facebook about all those ridiculous hats.

Williamson says for many, sharing what they watch enriches their experience. And she says the service could make Netflix's recommendations much better. After all, whose taste do you trust more, a friend's or Netflix's movie recommendation algorithm?

Hulu and YouTube already offer to stream information about what we watch in real-time to our friends on Facebook, but the Video Privacy Protection Act complicates the issue for Netflix. Before Netflix can share information about movies you are renting, the VPPA requires it to get its customers written consent. Obviously, in the Internet age, "written consent" is a problem. Plus, the law says Netflix would have to get consent each and every time it discloses information about what someone rented -- just a hassle no one wants.

Ryan Calo runs the Consumer Privacy Project at Stanford University Law School. He calls the Video Privacy Protection Act an "accident of history." It was passed shortly after a movie rental store in Washington D.C. leaked the video rental records of former Supreme Court nominee Judge Robert Bork. Congress was outraged, so today, video rental records are afforded greater legal protections than lots of other information companies collect about you.

Calo says while he thinks that the VPPA needs to be updated for the Internet age, scrapping the law entirely would be a huge mistake. Instead, he says, it's a wonderful model of how law can put consumers in control of their own personal information.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.
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I'm sorry but I every once in a while I feel like I'm slipping through parallel realities while listening to you reports. I remember not to long ago that NETFLIX and facebook already had a listing feature that posts what you rent, which I opted out of because I was watching some crazy stuff that I did not want everyone following. ALSO I know that NETFLIX used to have friend groups and reviews because I spent way to long trying to contact someone about bringing them back after they one day vanished. This was not so long ago!! So, why does you reporting not reflect reality? I love your reporting it just sometimes leaves me filling in a lot of holes!!

We need MORE laws like this one. As soon as we can find someone important to get compromised and then lean on some rent-a-lawmakers to do it, some decade after they finish screwing around with trying to score points off each other on the debt ceiling.


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