For instance, Spotify customers may now consent to the automatic publication on Facebook of the songs they’re listening to. Netflix customers can do the same with the movies they watch — so long as they are in Canada or Latin America.
However, Netflix’s U.S. customers are left in the automatic sharing dark. That’s because federal law bars Netflix from offering the same type of effortless sharing in the United States.
The Video Privacy Protection Act is nearly a quarter century old. Congress adopted the measure in 1988 after failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s video rental history was published by the Washington City Paper during confirmation hearings. The act outlaws the disclosure of video rentals unless the consumer gives consent, on a rental-by-rental basis.
So now, Netflix and members of Congress are teaming up to update the law for the Facebook generation.
Whether there’s too much information being shared on social networking sites is not the issue. People seem increasingly obsessed with sharing every tidbit of their lives on electronic social networks like Facebook — from who is dating whom to what’s for breakfast.
The privacy community is mixed, and Facebook has already been sued for posting Blockbuster rental information.
Here’s what the proposed H.R. 2471 does: It allows consumers to opt-in and grant ongoing consent to Netflix or other video services so video rental choices will automatically be shared via social networking tools such as Facebook’s new feeds. The Video Privacy Protection Act, as written, requires rental-by-rental consent.
“That’s a logical change,” said Jim Dempsey, vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology.
“We would want to make sure it is implemented in a way that the consent is not buried on page 17 of the terms of service,” he said. “If users are given sufficient notice, and they have the right to revoke their consent at any time, they should be able to consent to sharing of their data.”
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said H.R. 2471 is not a good idea. He said Facebook users, if they choose, can already update their timelines manually with the movies that they are watching.
“There should be more privacy protections for users,” he said. “This is ultimately about control, about whether the user decides when to disclose what’s going on in their private life. Or do the companies get to decide?”
EPIC says on its website that the law “stands as one of the strongest protections of consumer privacy against a specific form of data collection.”
Jonathan Strickland at howstuffworks.com said Netflix chief Reed Hastings went too far when on Thursday he called the Video Privacy Protection Act “outdated.”
“While I’m sure Hastings simply meant that the law is out of date because of developments in the digital age, it felt like he was just shrugging off what has been a cornerstone of consumer privacy protection in this country. I find that sort of dismissal chilling,” Strickland wrote.
But should the Video Privacy Protection Act be altered to allow Netflix or other rental services to integrate with Facebook or other social networks automatically, without the need for a user to hit a share button? Clearly that would make Facebook users even bigger advertising pawns than they already are, and it could end up causing some embarrassing moments for those who forget the feature is turned on before they start watching a tear-jerker or a steamy foreign flick.
But regardless of that possibility, Congress should give the people what they want.
And while lawmakers are busy revising laws outdated by the march of the internet, they should reform the 1986 statute that says the government does not need a probable-cause warrant to seize your data stored in the cloud if it’s older than six months.
The Electronic Privacy Communications Act of 1986 allows that — based on the outdated theory that data left on a third-party server for a long period of time could be considered abandoned. Legislation to change that was introduced in May.
However, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), the measure’s sponsor, has not granted his proposal a committee hearing. If he did, that’s a hearing we wouldn’t mind automatically sharing with our Facebook friends.