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Q&A with Jon Epstein Video Privacy Protection Act and Netflix's plan to integrate with Facebook

February 27, 2012

By: Jon A. Epstein

The Oklahoman

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Q&A with Jon Epstein
Jon Epstein, attorney with Hall Estill law firm, discuses the Video Privacy Protection Act and how it relates to Netflix's plan to integrate with Face Facebook

Netflix, Facebook integration may violate rental privacy act

Q: I understand there's a controversy surrounding Netflix and their desire to integrate with Facebook, allowing friends to see what friends are watching. The application could violate the Video Privacy Protection Act. What is that?

A: The act is a federal statute that prevents others from disclosing your personally identifiable video rental records without your written consent. It was passed in 1998 after Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork's rental records were published without his consent during his confirmation hearing.

Q: What is Netflix asking for?

A: Netflix has been offering its members outside the United States the opportunity to share and discover movies with their friends on the Facebook platform. However, Netflix is concerned that such activity in the United States would violate the VPPA unless the customer gives consent on every separate rental occasion. Netflix has proposed an amendment that would allow customers to provide a one-time, blanket consent (the “always-on sharing” option). Some senators are concerned that the amendment may adversely impact privacy rights. In fact, some privacy advocates believe that the VPPA should actually be strengthened rather than weakened and that the privacy protection should apply to books, magazines and websites in addition to video rentals.

Q: What sort of consequences could arise from “always-on sharing?”

A: Some opponents of the amendment have expressed concern that a one-time checkoff has the effect of an all-time surrender of privacy. They believe that it would be more prudent to allow the customer to provide or withhold his consent on a movie-by-movie basis. They believe some customers may check the box without understanding completely what rights they are waiving. They are also concerned that a customer might check the box when he is renting a noncontroversial movie and then forget when he rents a more controversial (politically or otherwise) video that he had consented to allow all of his rental selections to be made public.

Q: What is the best way to protect your personal privacy when opting into these types of services?

A: It is best to read the request completely and understand what it is that you are being asked to do. If you are uncomfortable with providing the consent, you should request additional information before you check the box