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    New York Times: Bill Would Let Video Consumers Disclose All Their Choices

    There has been recent interest in Congress in changing the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988, which requires written consent from consumers before video rental records can be shared, and the consent must be given before each disclosure. The VPPA was passed after a reporter was able to obtain the video rental records of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.

    Now, the New York Times reports that DVD rental and online streaming service Netflix is pushing for changes to the VPPA that would affect disclosure of video rental or streaming on sites such as Facebook.

    Netflix is backing a bill in Congress that would amend the Video Privacy Protection Act, a 1988 law that requires a video services company to get a customer’s written consent when it seeks to disclose that client’s personal information, such as rental history. The new bill, passed by the House last Tuesday, would allow consumers to give one-time blanket consent online for a company to share their viewing habits continuously. […]

    Spotify already shares the titles of songs its members are playing with their Facebook cohorts. And Facebook publishes links to articles that its members’ friends have read. So, Netflix executives argue, it’s high time for a bill that would give members of video services the same option to divulge their personal details. […]

    But some privacy scholars and advocates are warning that the bill actually diminishes a person’s ability to select what to share — and with whom — on a case-by-case basis. If the Senate passes the bill as currently written, they say, the revised law would undermine consumers’ control over information collected about them even as it empowers companies to create and share more detailed customer profiles. Netflix isn’t lobbying for a mere amendment, they argue; it wants Congress to dismantle a gold standard among privacy statutes. […]

    Still, video viewing remains a delicate area for many people because movie choices may open a window to a person’s religious or sexual preferences.

    “Do you want your conservative friends to know that you watched a hyperviolent “Saw” movie or movies about the gay experience like ‘Brokeback Mountain’?” says Kevin Bankston, a senior staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil rights group in San Francisco. “Do you want your liberal friends to know you watch an enormous amount of religious movies?”

    Any amendment, he argues, should preserve a person’s ability to choose what to share, case by case, rather than ceding control by giving a general waiver to a company. […]

    Privacy advocates say they expect Senator Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat who is chairman of the privacy, technology and law subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to hold a hearing on the amendment early next year. And the Judiciary Committee, which has often opposed amending laws for the primary benefit of one company, may decide to strengthen the Bork law — by clarifying that it covers online video streaming, not just the old-fashioned rental of physical videos. (Hulu, a streaming video service, has already introduced a sharing option on Facebook.)

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