Updated 1:39 p.m. EST, Wednesday, December 26
Netflix will introduce “social features” for U.S. users in 2013, the company told TPM Wednesday, following a bill passed by Congress just before the holiday break that removes previous restrictions that prevented companies from sharing customer video rental history.
“We are pleased that the Senate moved so quickly after the House,” a Netflix spokesperson told TPM in a statement. “We plan to introduce social features for our US members in 2013, after the president signs it.”
Netflix has said since 2011 that it wants its American customers to have the ability to link their Netflix accounts with their Facebook accounts and share their watched movies with Friends online through the Netflix Facebook App.
Users in Canada and Latin America have had the ability to link Netflix and Facebook accounts and share viewed movies since 2011, but Netflix hasn’t moved to offer it in its home country, the U.S., yet, due to a 1988 law — the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA). The law prohibits companies from disclosing “personally identifiable information,” including rental history, about any consumer, except in some special cases, such as for law enforcement investigations — or else they can be sued.
But now that law is being amended expressly to allow companies like Netflix to allow consenting customers to share video preferences through social media, thanks to the Senate passing a bill — the Video Privacy Protection Act Amendments Act of 2012 (sic) — unanimously on Thursday night.
The new bill forces companies to obtain “informed, written consent,” for sharing their information (though this can also be done through Internet forms), and also allows customers to withdraw consent from sharing their viewed video records or recommendations at any time, entirely or “case-by-case,” that is video-by-video.
The House passed its own version of that bill a few days prior, now heading to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law, which is expected imminently.
That said, the version of the bill that will become law does not contain an email privacy add-on. That provision, introduced by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), combined the video privacy updates with separate language requiring law enforcement and government agencies to obtain warrants in order to view any type of a user’s stored electronic communications — from emails to old Facebook messages. Currently, law enforcement agencies do not require a warrant to access user emails older than 6 months (180 days), but Leahy’s bill would have changed this to require a warrant in all cases.
Leahy’s version was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but has yet to be passed by the full Senate and the House.
“The bill we enact today takes several important steps to accommodate new technologies, like video streaming and social networking, while also helping to protect digital privacy rights in cyberspace.”
House Judiciary Committee aides told TPM that Leahy has been prepared for some time to put off email privacy till the next Congress, adding it to this year’s bill in order to test the waters for such a measure in future legislation.
Updated to add further information about Hulu’s social features and legal trouble. Corrected to change the date when Netflix originally told TPM about the new social features, from Monday to Wednesday. We apologize for the error.