Netflix has announced the introduction of a new app allowing customers to opt-in on a sharing history of viewed videos through Facebook. The amended law, the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) had previously prohibited a video service provider from sharing customer information without their specific approval. The badly written law lingered for nearly 24 years casting a shadow over the industry with unanswered questions such as “Is Netflix a video service provider?” and “Can written permission be obtained through the Internet?”
The passage of the amended law, which was approved by Congress in December, was signed into law by President Obama last week. Now, video service providers like Netflix can share users’ video streaming history on sites such as Facebook given that the individual viewer in question agrees to the sharing of his viewing history. The change in law represents a great victory for Netflix which has been laboring for years to get clarification on the previous law.
Interestingly, the nebulous law was written in response to an incident involving the nomination proceedings of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987. A journalist working for the now-defunct Washington City Paper convinced a cash register clerk at a video rental store frequented by Bork to supply him with Bork’s list of videos that he rented there. The incident immediately resulted in legislation protecting the rights of video renters like Bork from having their privacy infringed upon.
Unfortunately, the legislature could not have foreseen the technologically driven changes pertaining to how videos are distributed as witnessed by the demise of retail chains such as Blockbuster. The privacy issue was resolved by added language that stated that “…companies provide a clear opportunity, in clear conspicuous manor, for the consumer to withdraw on a case-by-case basis or to withdraw from ongoing disclosures.”
Netflix can now legally develop a Facebook app for all Netflix video renters.