Netflix wins the right to share your rental history

By Ponta Abadi

Oregon Daily Emerald, U. Oregon via UWIRE

While you were spending your winter break lazing around in your pajamas and watching the same season of a show for the fifth time in a row, Netflix was gearing up to change the federal law to make it possible for everyone to know you spent a month watching “Family Guy” or “Say Yes to the Dress.”

On Dec. 20, 2012, Senate quietly passed a reform bill to change the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) to let Netflix integrate with Facebook. This means Facebook users will soon have the opportunity to see exactly what their friends are watching, guilty pleasures and all.

Just as a fun fact, according to Ars Technica, the VPPA was originally created in the middle of U.S. Senate debates over whether to confirm Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. A journalist went to Bork’s local video store and later published an article featuring many of Bork’s past rentals (which included 12 Alfred Hitchcock movies, “Pretty in Pink,” “Sixteen Candles,” British costume dramas like “The Private Life of Henry the Eighth,” and so on). The incident served as a sort of wake-up call for Congress, which then passed the VPPA.

The new amendment to the law allows users to give consent online for access to their video-watching history and the amendment will also allow for that consent to apply to a long period of time (up to two years).

Some don’t think it’s an inappropriate invasion of privacy, others do. Jules Polonetsky, the director and co-chair of the Future of Privacy Forum, doesn’t think the law requires companies to be clear with their users about how and when their rental history will be shared.

“This is about the sharing of your records of video rental history, as opposed to on a clear, permission basis, enabling people to key-in sharing mode,” Polonetsky said to ReadWrite. “Sharing should be in a clear opt-in basis.”

That’s all great, but what does this mean for the everyday user? It means that, unless you opt out, Netflix and other video-rental services can have the right to share your rental history after getting your permission just once.

But it also means Netflix is going to start incorporating social features into its service and you’ll be able to use Facebook to get Netflix recommendations. And then you can watch your friend’s favorite show five times.

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