Netflix Inc. has developed a feature that would automatically connect what’s being watched on its Internet video service with Facebook’s social network. Subscribers would still be given control over whether they wanted their online social circles to see their viewing habits.
The sharing tool became available in September to Netflix’s international subscribers, but the company has withheld it from its nearly 24 million U.S. subscribers for fear of breaking the law.
The reason: the Video Protection Privacy Act, which forbids the disclosure of video rental records. The law was passed in 1988, after a newspaper published a list of movies that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork rented from a video store. The U.S. Senate wound up rejecting Bork’s nomination.
Netflix says it’s time to rewrite a law drawn up in an age of VHS tapes.
That thinking is gaining support in Congress. This week, the House passed legislation that would allow a merchant to share viewing records with a customer’s consent. Most importantly to Netflix, the authorization can be made online.
The House approved the bill 303-116. It still needs the backing of the U.S. Senate to become law.
Empowering Netflix’s U.S. subscribers to share their movie picks on Facebook could help make the service more useful and lure new customers. That’s the kind of lift that Netflix needs after its subscribers revolted against price increases of as much as 60 percent. The service lost 800,000 U.S. subscribers during the summer months, and management has said the attrition extended into the autumn.
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