Now this is what we call weird. It would be one thing if Netflix accidentally activated its (currently illegal) Facebook “Share” button. But it’s looking like Netflix accidentally posted a “Don’t Share This” Facebook button. Curious? Entirely. Let’s delve deeper.
So there are a few pieces of key information we need to evaluate in our investigation here. One happens to be a little law from back in 1988 called the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), which makes it illegal to share someone’s video rental information. The law came about after Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s video rental history was leaked to a newspaper by someone at his video store. This was back when movies were all on these things called video tapes, not Blu-Rays.
Anyways, the law made a bit more sense back then than it does now. We “share” things more often than people in the 80’s could come up with ridiculous hair styles. With Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Google +, and whatever other new social network has sprouted up in the last five minutes, people are now sharing what they want when they want. Except for their Netflix choices, of course.
It’s unclear whether or not the law actually includes Netflix and its service based on the language. The law calls out to “video tape service providers,” not “video streaming/DVD rental services.” In any case, Netflix is treading lightly, launching Facebook integration in Canada and Latin America where the U.S. Congress can’t get involved. Just a week or so ago, Netflix promised those two regions would have a Facebook button “before our next earnings report,” or in three months.
In that case, Netflix is definitely working on how its Facebook integration will work even as we blog. Like every other site and service that implements Facebook, a button is expected. It’ll probably either be a “Like” button, a “Share” button, or both. So then what is the deal with this “Don’t Share This” button? Seriously.
It was discovered by the site iSmashPhone, which reports that this “Don’t Share This” button popped up on both the iPad and iPhone Netflix app (though only an iPad screen grab was provided). I really have no idea what this is about. It’s no longer popping up in either app, so it’s tough to investigate what happens when it’s tapped. My only guess is a bit far-fetched, but maybe Netflix is protecting itself as it builds in Facebook. Accidental posts and activations happen all the time when companies make adjustments to their sites, and since a nasty antiquated law could cost the company up to $2,500 in penalties per each violation, Netflix may be using a “Don’t Share This” button just in case something like this accidental posting were to happen.
In truth, it doesn’t really matter what Netflix puts on their Facebook button unless this stupid VPPA law gets thrown into the trash. That’s where Pop Vox and Representative Bob Goodlatte (pronounced “good lat” as in “cat,” not “good latte” as in “this latte is delicious”) come into play. Goodlatte proposed an amendment to the VPPA, impressively in under 70 words, stating that video rental histories can be shared as long as the consumer gives consent over the web. The amendment is titled H.R. 2471 and was filed on July 8. The mysterious “Don’t Share This” button may be in preparation for the passing of this amendment, even though it seems to assert the VPPA more than fight it.
H.R. 2471 is currently awaiting a vote in the House Judiciary Committee that could send it right back to the House floor. So far, there’s no telling how this’ll pan out. But if Facebook is the missing link in your Netflix experience, Pop Vox can help. It’s a new start-up based out of Washington D.C. and it works by crowd sourcing the public’s responses to certain proposed bills and amendments, including H.R. 2471, through social networks and its own site. In other words, Pop Vox makes commenting on legislation as easy as commenting on TechCrunch. So far H.R. 2471 hasn’t gotten much traction on Pop Vox, but Netflix CEO Reed Hastings hopes that somehow, some way the amendment will pass.
“The VPPA discourages us from launching our Facebook integration domestically,” wrote Hastings in a letter to shareholders. “Under the VPPA, it is ambiguous when and how a user can give permission for his or her video viewing data to be shared. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a simple clarification, H.R. 2471, which says when and how a user can give such permission. We’re hoping H.R. 2471 passes, enabling us to offer our Facebook integration to our U.S. subscribers who desire it.”
We’re hoping the same thing, Hastings. Just make sure you switch that button back to “Share” before it goes live.