Netflix Is Watching
I really didn't understand why Netflix spun off its DVDs by mail to a lame duck company called Qwikster. I same 'lame duck' because they didn't bother trade marking 'Qwikster' and they didn't seem to care that some foul mouthed Tweeter owned @Qwikster. But a little side note on public radio's Marketplace mentioned this tidbit…
There's this law, Video Privacy Protection Act, which says that DVD rental companies can't sell rental history info -- no one knows if Richard Dawkins is actually watching The Passion of the Christ.
But online companies aren't bound by the same law. Hulu, for example, knows if Stephen Hawking is watching Jersey Shore. Not only can they recommend The Hills but they can sell his email address to some other company that can start marketing places that the esteemed physicist might buy some big plastic jewelry and eye makeup.
Whether Professor Hawking wants advertising based on his viewing or not isn't really the question that came up in my mind. My question is, 'Why is online different?' I mean, it's still a video rental, it's still private information and it's still illegal to share that information with physical DVDs.
It reminds me of designer drugs… those were the slightly different compounds that acted just like LSD or Ecstasy. The crime wasn't taking a drug that made you feel good, the crime was possessing a very specific chemical so you didn't go to jail for having it because there wasn't a specific law against the slight difference.
If it's so damn easy for Netflix to get around the 23 year old video privacy law, it almost seems silly to have the law at all. Either whack the first law, or apply it to the new medium.
This whole, 'It's new so it's different' ignores the spirit of the law. If there is some reason that my corner video rental store can't sell who's watching what, there must have been some reason that companies shouldn't be selling information about who's watching what, regardless of the medium.
It really doesn't matter in the long run -- it's not that Netflix is being slick by creating two companies, one bound by a privacy law and one not. It's that we really don't care. No one seems to even know that there's a video privacy law. at all.
And like that orchid you were given by a friend, if you don't pay attention to it, and care for it, it's going to die and end up in the dustbin. And, if you really didn't care, you'll be happy for the shelf space.