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Netflix urges Senate to let users share viewing data on Facebook

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Netflix is backing a bill, currently being debated in the Senate, that would amend the Video Privacy Protection Act to allow Netflix users to share viewing history on Facebook.

Netflix Facebook Sharing
Netflix Facebook Sharing

Back in September, Netflix announced its integration with Facebook, allowing Canadian and Latin American users to share what they were watching with friends. US users, however, didn't get the update. That's because of the Video Privacy Protection Act, a law that prevents video rental services from disclosing user viewing habits without written consent. Now, Netflix is asking the US Senate to tweak the law enough to accommodate the Facebook app. The new resolution passed the House of Representatives back in December, and is now under discussion in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Known as H.R. 2471 in the House, the bill would amend the original act "to clarify that a video tape service provider may obtain a consumer's informed, written consent on an ongoing basis and that consent may be obtained through the Internet." That change would let streaming video rentals be shared without any worry about obtaining separate written consent each time. In a hearing on Tuesday, Netflix council David Hyman argued that the change would bring video law in line with that of online reading or music streaming, removing a "friction" that "places a drag on social video innovation that is not present in any other medium."

While Netflix undoubtedly faces hurdles that other online services do not, some senators and public interest groups are worried about the bill's implications. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who authored the original law in 1988, characterized the new resolution as a Trojan horse that would entice people to give up privacy "in order to receive what may seem like a fun new app or service." It's a valid concern, but honestly we think Leahy may have just inadvertently described the operating principle of the entire internet.