Netflix Hammers Privacy Protections
Netflix now has the right to share your viewing habits – Salon.com
After nearly two years of intense lobbying, Netflix has won the reform it needs to integrate its services with Facebook. Ars Technica first reported that the Senate quietly passed a reform to the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) last week, giving video streaming companies the right to share your data for up to two years after asking for your permission once. (Mother Jones notes that “The Senate didn’t even hold a recorded vote: The bill was approved by unanimous consent”).
This is a government subsidy to a business, in this case, a particular business. The act gives away a right to privacy with no return to the consumer.
Is this good business ethics? One of the first tests of ethics is the question, “Is it legal?” The “reform” makes what was previously illegal into a legal act. It’s also intensely profitable. This passes the sole test of Friedman’s code, “Does it enhance shareholder value?” Yes, it makes more money for the company. I would expect the company’s value to be enhanced.
But this is slicing good business ethics pretty thin. It’s legal and profitable. But so are a great many things that we can be ashamed of.
Is it bad business ethics? It takes a public good, privacy, and converts it to private profit. What did consumers gain from allowing Netflix to sell their information to other companies? That easy, they won the right to be specifically targeted in advertising. Their viewing habits can be used to get a handle on their political beliefs, whether they have children, etc.
It might be argued that the consumer has to give permission to access his records. A blanket right has been abolished and replaced with a private opt out clause. One of the things I have learned is that few of my students even though they are computer literate have any concept of how their data can be used against them. Considering that observation and the mass of e-mails we are bombarded with, I find it unlikely an informed decision is going to be made in many cases.
A company has been profited at a cost to the public interest. It is a government subsidy with all that implies. The company could have done better.
From around the Web –
From the web site, 33 Bits of Entropy: (This article highlights another important issue in online privacy. jp)
New lines will need to be drawn defining what is acceptable data-release policy, and in a way that takes into account the actual re-identification risk instead of relying on syntactic crutches such as removing “personally identifiable” information. Perhaps there will need to be a constant process of evaluating and responding to continuing improvements in re-identification algorithms.
Perhaps the ability of third parties to discover information about an individual’s movie rankings is not too disturbing, as movie rankings are not generally considered to be sensitive information. But because these same techniques can lead to the re-identification of data, far greater privacy concerns are implicated.
From the web site, Tech of the Hub:
Today, Netflix presented at the F8 conference to talk about their planned integration with Facebook. You can see what you friends are watching and they can see what you are watching on Facebook. Not only on a granular level, but Facebook will present what it finds to be interesting trends among your friends’ viewing habits. Mark Zukerberg’s example showed that four of his friends just watched movies staring Johnny Depp. Netflix will be integrating with both Facebook’s newly announced Timeline as well as their OpenGraph platform. Facebook will have similar integration with Hulu.
And, finally, from the web site, Addicting Info:
An archaic 1988 law, the Video Privacy Protection Act, currently prevents the sharing of your video watch lists, such as with services like Netflix or Hulu, on social media outlets such as Facebook or Google+. Earlier this month, the US Senate put through an upgrade to the bill to address this issue, to little notice. It was a minor correction to an old set of laws. But when the US House got ahold of it, they put forth some edits, which is where the problem begins.
These changes, as reported by the ACLU, divorces the bill from a larger set of laws, called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. In so doing they eliminated protections which were in place to require a warrant for accessing of cloud-based private electronic communications and other content, such as email, private social network posts, any information stored on cloud based servers. Instead, a subpoena is all that is required, a legal process but one which does not require the due diligence of a warrant, not even requiring an active investigation to acquire.