Law Blocks Netflix/Facebook Integration in U.S.

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The law of unintended consequences has resulted in Netflix opting not to launch its Facebook integration in the U.S., although it will in Canada and Latin America. At issue is a 1998 law called The Video Privacy Protection Act, which requires rental information to be kept secret.

In a letter to investors today, Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings and chief financial officer David Wells wrote, “Under the VPPA, it is ambiguous when and how a user can give permission for his or her video viewing data to be shared. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a simple clarification, HR2471, which says when and how a user can give such permission. We’re hoping HR2471 passes, enabling us to offer our Facebook integration to our U.S. subscribers who desire it.”

The original law was a reaction to the Supreme Court nomination hearings that eventually rejected Robert Bork. During those hearings, a reporter for the Washington City Paper wrote about a list he’d obtained of what movies Bork had rented from his local video store. There was nothing scandalous or particularly revealing about the list, but lawmakers felt it was necessary to take preventative action against future disclosures.

In 2008, a class action lawsuit against Blockbuster Inc. alleged that releasing rental and sale information to Facebook through the controversial but now defunct Facebook Beacon program was a violation of the VPPA.

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