Just last week Netflix subscribers in the United States became able to automatically share what they are watching on Facebook with their friends, so long as they have consented. More than a year ago, Netflix introduced this sharing feature to international subscribers while the U.S. had to work around a 1988 law.
The law, called Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), prohibited companies like Netflix from revealing customer information without the customer's written consent. This would include Netflix's ability to share what a person is watching on Netflix on the person's Facebook wall, much in the same way that Spotify works. This law arose from abnormal circumstances and was not meant for a post-VHS world. However, Netflix decided to play it safe and did not launch the program in the U.S. until the issue had been resolved.
While most lawmakers agreed with lobbyists and saw the law as needing revisions, it took over a year for the Senate and the House to agree on safe and reasonable way to protect customer privacy.
An amendment to VPPA was passed by Congress in December and signed into law by President Barack Obama in January. Consequently, Netflix launched the sharing option in March.
"This has been a missing link for us," said Tom Willerer, Netflix's vice president of product innovation. The company is trying to reach its goal of 90 million customers and increase customer loyalty. As a result of this new feature, Netflix stock surged by $10.25 per share, or 5.6 percent, to close at $192.36 per share, according to Michael Liedtke of the Associated Press.
However, this sharing tool could raise problems if privacy is of great concern to subscribers and therefore goes unused. Netflix settled a case with a customer that alleged that Netflix did not discard the customer's personal account data after one year, which is a provision of VPPA. Netflix paid $9 million to settle.
The big question to examine in this situation is whether or not the power of suggestion is really that powerful. Willerer believes so. "Being able to see more recommendations from your friends can be a very powerful thing," he said.
Leslie Carandang, A&S '16, said, "I definitely think seeing the shows my friends are watching would give me good ideas as to what shows I should add to my ever-growing queue."
When activated, the sharing feature will contain new rows on your Netflix account labeled "Friends' Favorites" and "Watched by your friends". Any person that signs up will also have his or her selections displayed with the accounts of his or her Facebook friends. However, extra privacy measures have been put into place to allow users to block specific movies or television shows.
Users will not be subject to these sharing options unless they manually go into their settings and allow their Netflix account to have access to their Facebook account.
In addition, Netflix will also include rows devoted to lists of what up to five of your Facebook friends watch. This selection process will happen through a company computer where a formula will run to determine who to pick based on an analysis of common interests. This will all be tied to the account of the primary subscriber, but Netflix is developing models where the account can be splintered into individual profiles that sort viewing histories into different queues.