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Monday, July 30, 2012

Legislative change would allow Netflix users to Facebook their video viewing

Netflix headquarters
A file photo shows Netfilx headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif. The company would benefit from a proposed legislative amendment. (AP Paul Sakuma / July 30, 2012)

A proposed amendment to a U.S. cyber-security bill would allow Netflix users to share information about their latest movie rentals with Facebook friends.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Monday filed four amendments to the bill, including one that would lift a decades-old ban against the sharing video viewing information without a consumer's express written consent. Overturning the bill could allow Facebook to let others know what you view and your ratings of the film or video viewed.

The proposed change would update the Video Privacy Protection Act, which barred a video store (or a service like Netflix) from sharing a consumer's video rental history without written approval.

Congress enacted the ban in 1988, after the Washington City Paper published a list of video rentals by Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork during the confirmation hearings.

Bork's movie preferences -- "A Day at the Races," "The Man Who Knew Too Much" and "Ruthless People" -- weren't particularly illuminating. But the privacy breach moved Leahy to draft legislation that would prevent the disclosure of rental information unless a consumer consented specifically and in writing -- or police officers would present a warrant.

A Netflix spokesman said the company would support a modernization of the 1988 law, which would allow subscribers to share information about the movies they're watching, just as Spotify users can let friends know what songs they're listening to.

But given the rancorous climate on Capitol Hill as the presidential election nears, it seems unlikely that any bill could muster bipartisan support.

Netflix has spent $395,000 in lobbying this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' website, Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would amend the Video Privacy Protection Act's consent provisions to allow services like Netflix to obtain a one-time, blanket permission to disclose all the movies a consumer watches.

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