Online streaming giant Netflix, along with rivals such as Hulu, have plenty of reason to celebrate heading into the new year after a ‘restrictive’ law , though their users who like a little bit of privacy sometimes might not be so delighted.
The ‘Video Privacy Protection Act Amendments Act of 2012′, passed in US Congress this week, enables video streaming websites such as Netflix to launch what they will describe as a set of ‘social media features’ to American users at some point in 2013.
The updates alter the video-privacy act that has been in place since 1988, and allows companies such as Netflix to follow on from their ‘Canada’ and ‘Latin America’ branches and introduce free use of a user’s social media information to users mainly for searching and recommendation purposes, while also allowing the chance for a subscriber to automatically disclose their disc rental and streaming history to their social media friends and followers. The 1988 law had previously prohibited companies from being able to display a customer’s movie rental history unless it was for legal purposes (e.g. court-ordered).
Netflix claim that they have had the features ready for some time now, a spokesman noted of their plans to implement greater ‘social media support’ as soon as President Barack Obama signs off on the bill as law: “We are pleased that the Senate moved so quickly after the House. We plan to introduce social features for our U.S. members in 2013, after the president signs it.”
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy added of the ‘top priority’ changes, that will be reviewed further before being enacted: “To protect the privacy of American consumers, the bill retains key privacy protections already in the VPPA which require that consumers ‘opt-in’ to the sharing of their video viewing information.”
Despite the political support, though, there are still plenty of concerns that the bill, which controversially includes the removal of a section which under new rules permits ‘authorities’ to read personal e-mails without a warrant, needs fine-tuning, especially with concerns remaining about invasion of privacy from companies such as Netflix. There is a balance that needs to be struck between allowing seamless content recommendation features and invasion of privacy, but this appears to be a case where many people would rather not take a risk rather than claim any small ‘rewards’, though they may not even have a choice in the matter if they want to continue using the likes of Netflix…