Netflix pushing to update video privacy law

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Jan 31, 2012

Adriene Hill: It’s currently against the law for Netflix to share your rental history. Today, Netflix is pushing to change that. They’re making the case to lawmakers that the Video Privacy Protection Act was passed way before the rest of the Internet even existed.

Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall-Genzer reports.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer: The Video Privacy Protection Act was signed into law in 1988. It was designed to protect the video rental records of customers. The law says these records can’t be shared without a consumer’s written consent. Netflix says the law is from an earlier era, which doesn’t work today, when everybody wants to be connected to their friends.

Netflix general counsel David Hyman told the Senate subcommittee this morning the law is preventing the company from introducing a new Facebook app that instantly tells your friends what you’re watching.

David Hyman: Under this law it is unclear whether consumers can give ongoing consent to allow Netflix to share the movies and TV shows they’ve instantly watched through our service.

That sounds harmless, right? Marc Rotenberg told the subcommittee: no. He heads the Electronic Privacy Information Center. He says Netflix wants to change the law so that consumers give it blanket permission to share all of their information. And not just with their friends.

Marc Rotenberg: It’s also to Netflix’s business partners and it’s also potentially to law enforcement.

Netflix points out that the House has already approved an amendment that would allow consumers’ records to be shared automatically.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.