Netflix is building an app for Facebook that would let its users see what movies or shows their friends are watching, then click to watch them without having to leave Facebook. But when the two companies announced the app in September, Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings said it wouldn’t be available in the US because of a law from the 1980s that prohibited video rental history sharing.
In an age where people purposefully share their activities with friends, that law has become absurd. Thankfully, the House understands this. A revised bill, which passed the House yesterday, would let providers share video history information after first receiving the user’s consent. Now it just needs to pass the Senate.
This could mean Netflix, which has been losing users right and left after a number of missteps this year, would get access to the 155 million or so Facebook users in the US. Facebook is already driving significant traffic to YouTube and other online video sites, suggesting the app could ultimately result in higher usage and new (or renewed) Netflix subscriptions from Facebook users.
The original Video Privacy Protection Act was passed in 1988 by an angry Congress after a Supreme Court nominee, Robert Bork, had his video rental record published by a journalist. The actual rentals weren’t especially interesting — it was more a jab at Bork’s belief that citizens only had privacy rights provided to them directly by legislation. But Congress’s reaction was to make it illegal for video providers to share what their users watch. A couple cases have since been brought against Blockbuster and Netflix based on the bill, that presumably scared Netflix off from launching the Facebook app.
Some more details on what the revised bill will allow, from sponsor Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia).
The Goodlatte legislation, H.R. 2471, updates the VPPA to allow video tape service providers to facilitate the sharing on social media networks of the movies watched or recommended by users. Specifically, it is narrowly crafted to preserve the VPPA’s protections for consumers’ privacy while modernizing the law to empower consumers to do more with their video consumption preferences, including sharing names of new or favorite TV shows or movies on social media in a simple way. However, it protects the consumer’s control over his information by requiring consumer consent before any of this can occur. And, it makes clear that a consumer can opt-in to the ongoing sharing of his or her favorite movies or TV shows without having to provide consent each and every time a movie is rented. It also makes clear that written, affirmative consent can be provided through the Internet and can be withdrawn at any time.
[Image via Techland.]