Netflix is no longer borked by an old Supreme Court ruling on video privacy, and those who wish to will soon be able to share their movie selections via Facebook (sorry citizens of the Twitterverse, you’re not yet invited).
Netflix’s Director of Product Innovation, Cameron Johnson, explains it all via a video on the Netflix blog. The gist is that the streaming n’ disc video service will slowly roll out the functionality of Facebook sharing to users over the next few days. Users will be able to opt-in by connecting Netflix to their Facebook accounts, which will then give Netflix access to your basic information, contact information… by now, you know the drill, and you’ll probably give all of that up without a second thought because this is the 21st century and personal privacy regarding your life’s messy details is such a quaint notion.
This victory for Netflix lacks the oomph it would have a few years back when sharing stuff on Facebook was all the rage, and sure, it’ll be fun to see what friends are watching amidst the various cat photos and repostings of the memes and wisdom of George Takei, but it does have a larger impact in that the strictures of the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 have been loosened by Congress. The original intent of the law was to put the reigns on journalists, investigators and others who wished to view the video rental records of ordinary citizens. The law was developed (by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy) because of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the failed nomination of conservative jurist Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court. During his Senate confirmation hearings in 1987, a Washington muckraking rag delved into Bork’s video rental history in order to humiliate him, though that apparently backfired and only proved to Congress that if it could happen to Bork, it could happen to any one of them. Congress, knowing full well their yen for video porn and whatnot could lead to a whole host of problems down the road, crafted a very strict law that went well beyond even state laws on library privacy (where they existed, as individual libraries across the nation largely maintain their own public confidentiality laws in accordance with general state laws on privacy). This law stood firm until Netflix’s Reed Hastings suddenly realized, hey! wait! this applies to us, and not just Blockbuster!
To make a long story short, Netflix was able to lobby Congress to amend the act with an informed consent provision (your basic opt-in action). The original law is still in place, but Netflix was given wiggle room to permit such contemporary time-wasting (yet highly valuable) activities such as social sharing via the Internet so that others may know of your huge like (or intense dislike) for the films of Michael Bay. What didn’t happen was the attempt to piggyback other provisions onto the Netflix amendment, such as putting the brakes on the Federal government’s ability to snoop into private emails and other stored content (such as everything you’ve recently put into the “cloud”)… that failed, and the government can still go all warrantless on the mess that is your email inbox.
Ostensibly, Netflix is rolling out this feature to support their customer’s needs to recommend movies and shows to others, thereby making their already robust search and recommendation algorithms stronger over the long haul, but we all know damn well that Facebook access is a two-way street, and Netflix, like other companies we’ve signed away your rights to, will inevitably delve mine our user information for both good and possibly nefarious purposes (read: more advertising) along the way.
So, folks, now you can find your Facebook friends on your Netflix homepage and mingle with them, surf Social Rows of movies to watch that friends may have recommended (four- or five-star content only, though another row on the Netflix navigation screen will show you everything they’ve recently watched). Netflix has gone the extra step of putting this functionality on almost all Netflix enabled apps for consoles and mobile devices. Meaning you can use your PS3 (and soon your PS4), or your iPhone or Android tablet to share your content choices with Facebook friends and vice versa.
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