Posted by: jonkatz | March 13, 2010

Netflix cancels next competition due to privacy concerns

Netflix has decided to cancel the second Netflix competition due to privacy concerns (or fear of lawsuits, depending how precise you want to be).

While I am glad to see that Netflix is sensitive to privacy concerns, reading the comments following their announcement suggests a better idea that Netflix could have implemented: simply allow Netflix customers the choice to “opt in” and allow (pre-specified) data related to their account to be released. Heck, Netflix could provide the first 200,000 customers who opt in with a $5 discount on their next bill (thus matching the payout for the competition). As a side effect, more accurate data (though only for a non-random subset of the customers) would be available for researchers to work with.

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Responses

  1. It’s not clear to me at all why the solution you suggest wouldn’t hurt the privacy of many users who didn’t even opt in. Think about auxiliary information. For example, suppose I know that you’ve recently been watching movies with person X. Now, person X opting in tells me which movies you’ve seen recently.

  2. It’s not clear to me at all why the solution you suggest wouldn’t hurt the privacy of many users who didn’t even opt in.

    It does raise some interesting questions. You are right that there may be some “privacy breach”. However, since person X could just as well post on their blog that they watched a movie with you, I don’t see that there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in this case. Would be interested to hear how one would argue otherwise.

  3. I think you have hit on the reason why I will not date a blogger or a tweeter again.


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