Privacy Versus Convenience: Facebook – Netflix Bill (HR 2471)

October 10, 2011

Time for an update on our story, “Netflix – Facebook Integration and the US Congress“. Besides gaining several additional co-sponsors, HR 2471 was discussed late last week in front of the House Judiciary Committee (the bill is covered at the end of the video). The bill updates the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) to allow consumers to share their video viewing data over the Internet. Specifically, it allows consumers to give their consent up-front once and electronically (via the Internet) to video streaming services such as Netflix.

At first, it seemed the bill would be voted out of committee since it only contained “minor, common-sense changes” to the VPPA. However, a couple of the members, Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia and Congressman Mel Watts from North Carolina, voiced some concerns over the bill at the mark up hearing. Congressman Scott wants to ensure that consumers are able to make an informed decision about giving their consent. The Congressman points out that this consent is often buried in a complex set of terms & conditions that consumers feel obligated to accept.

Congressman Watts is concerned the current bill trades convenience at the expense of privacy. He offered an amendment to require a consumer’s permission explicitly each time video viewing data is shared as opposed to the current bill’s up-front one-time consent (but it could be revoked at any time). With Netflix and Facebook’s proposed functionality, movie and TV viewing data would then be shared automatically. Representative Watts stated the bill ”does not adequately address the realities of privacy in this age of instant and wide-spread information distribution and consumption.” Specifically, he is concerned about the dynamic nature of friend lists on social networks as well as the lack of safeguards for children. The people who are your friends when you give consent are not necessarily the people who see your viewing habits later. His concerns about children stems from the fact that families typically share a single Netflix account. By doing so, children’s viewing information would be shared without any controls. Reading the Netflix terms & conditions, it states that regardless of who was using Netflix in a family, it could only be linked to a single Facebook account. If Rep. Scott’s amendment passes requiring explicit consent each time, it would make the integration less seamless.

Listening to the hearing, the amendments offered by Congressman Watts and Scott are important even if they only raise awareness about the trade-offs between privacy and convenience. Given it effects our privacy rights, Congressman Watts made the point that the lack of a public hearing or subcommittee process around this bill was troubling.

So, what’s next? The committee adjourned and plans to meet again this Friday, October 14 to consider the amendments offered. Stay tuned.

Tags: Facebook, law, Netflix, streaming

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