Though they can't seem to do anything about the looming financial crisis, Congress has passed a bill that will make it easier for a company like Netflix or Hulu to share your rental data with Facebook.
"We are pleased that the Senate moved so quickly after the House," a Netflix spokesperson told Talking Points Memo on Wednesday. "We plan to introduce social features for our US members in 2013, after the president signs it."
These days, a free networking tool in exchange for our personal data is the new standard, but Wednesday's statement is the latest example in showing users how exchanging their 'free' information can translate into a marketing match made in heaven for companies like Netflix and Facebook.
The development is a triumphant step in a slow climb for Netflix, which has lobbied hard to get the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act tweaked to allow users to opt in or out of the forthcoming Facebook 'social sharing' features, which could be an important way for advertisers to reach users who may watch a movie but refrain from endorsing it with a "like" on the site. The features already exist for users in Canada and Latin America, but the lion's share of the site's 30 million users are based in the US.
Back to the VPPA. The legislation is an update to a law that prevents personal information about a person's video rental history from being shared with a third party; it was passed after supreme court hopeful Robert Bork's rental history was leaked to DC's City Paper in 1987.
(And now, because you're wondering, Bork's totally non-scandalous record included The Man With the Golden Gun, Sixteen Candles and North by Northwest.)
Whether or not this social feature takes off with users remains to be seen – they're too busy recommending features they'd actually find useful:
But if the mixed-reviews of 'social reader' experiments conducted over the past year or so by media companies – the Guardian included – are any indication, just because users read an article or watch a video doesn't mean they want to share it with their social network. These things are called guilty pleasures for a reason, but the new rules of the internet are eliminating the concept of private preferences. Think of it this way: would you want the world to know your favorite Bond was Roger Moore, your favorite Molly Ringwald movie was Sixteen Candles and you were a little bit obsessive about Cary Grant? Maybe you do, but a man named Bork certainly didn't.
In other privacy-related news, Congress decided to punt the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, in which authorities would need a warrant to search e-mails or cloud-stored user data, to 2013 at the earliest. While you wait for meaningful privacy protection, you'll at least have the 'freedom' to share your Instant Queue.
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