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Netflix, Facebook Integration Brings Back the Water Cooler

Netflix, Facebook Integration Brings Back the Water Cooler

Way back when everyone watched TV shows at the same time, people couldn't wait to share their impressions with friends the next day. Even though the world has since experienced a social explosion, sharing on Netflix has been oddly subdued, due to an old video-sharing privacy law. That law has been updated, and soon Netflix users will be able to tell all their friends what they've watched and what they thought of it.

Movie and TV buffs will soon be able to share what they've watched on Netflix more easily, the service announced Wednesday. Users in the United States will be able to take advantage of "frictionless sharing" with their friends on Facebook in the coming days.

The sharing will be available only on Netflix by default. Users will be able to allow their friends to see which titles they viewed in a new "Watched by your friends" row. There will also be a "Friends' Favorites" row that will include movies and shows friends have given four- or five-star ratings.

When signing into the service, users also will have the option to share their viewing history with friends on Facebook.

For those who might not want to have their friends know their viewing habits, Netflix has included a "Don't Share This" button in the player. Users also can opt to completely turn off sharing on Facebook. Moreover, Netflix has stressed that nothing will be posted automatically to Facebook.

Netflix did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

Frictionless Sharing

This so-called frictionless sharing has become possible thanks to new rules for video-sharing signed into law earlier this year by President Obama.

The measure updates the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act, which dates back to the Reagan administration. That law was put in place to prevent what it termed "wrongful disclosure of video tape rental or sales records." It was enacted as a response to the publication of Robert Bork's video rental history during confirmation hearings on his nomination to the Supreme Court.

"The bill that amended the Video Privacy Protection Act was simply a gift to Netflix and Facebook," said David Jacobs, consumer protection counsel at EPIC. "The existing law would have allowed both the sharing of viewing habits and the integration of Netflix and Facebook."

EPIC testified in the Senate about the bill that changed the VPPA to allow this practice, Jacobs told TechNewsWorld.

"The issues raised in the testimony are still relevant," he said. "The only thing it prevented was the kind of blanket, durable disclosure that Netflix apparently wanted."

Privacy at Stake

The 1988 VPPA was simply there to stop automatic -- possibly even unwanted -- sharing, but there was nothing to prevent individuals from posting on Facebook the movies they recently watched. The difference here is that this technology makes it possible to do that updating and sharing of information more easily.

Still, it could create situations in which users accidentally share what they've been viewing.

"[That] scenario might be a problem: turning on sharing and then forgetting about it," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Research.

"However, before we speculate about its impact, let's wait and see what users actually do," he suggested.

"My guess is that relatively few users will share their video rental/viewing histories," Sterling told TechNewsWorld. "Netflix likes this for obvious reasons, but I think users will only tepidly embrace it."

Facebook users already have the option to post Likes, including videos, so its questionable whether Netflix's integration is really a big deal, in any case.

What might have been more significant in terms of protecting privacy was a provision attached to the VPPA legislation that was ditched before its final passage.

"The Netflix-backed amendment to the VPPA was originally paired with an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act that would have required a warrant before the government could access private electronic communications like emails, explained EPIC's Jacobs. "But during the holidays last year, while everyone was distracted, Congress killed the ECPA update and passed only the VPPA amendment, which is doubly unfortunate in terms of privacy."


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