Netflix Wants to Change Law Against Revealing Video-Viewing History

Netflix lobbies for change of Video Privacy Protection Act. Meanwhile, company faces developing class action lawsuit for violating VPPA.
Jin Lee/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Netflix announced Thursday that its customers in Canada and Latin America soon will be able to share their movie-watching history on Facebook. But why not American customers? According to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, speaking at at Facebook’s F8 developer conference in San Francisco, it's because of an outdated law that he hopes to change.

In 1988, Congress enacted the Video Privacy Protection Act to prevent the "wrongful disclosure of video tape rental or sale records."

The law came in the aftermath of the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. Back then, a newspaper published his video rental history, leading lawmakers to crack down on the disclosure of such sensitive information.

STORY: Is Netflix a Bargain?

Speaking at the Facebook developer conference, Hastings predicted that Congress would soon amend the VPPA. "Luckily the U.S. has a bill today in Congress to update that old privacy [policy], which will then allow us to turn [video history sharing] on in the United States," said Hastings.

Left unsaid is another reason for Netflix might wish to upend the VPPA.

Two weeks ago, a consolidated class action lawsuit was amended in California federal court that alleges Netflix already has violated the VPPA.

STORY: Netflix's Qwikster Offshoot Unpopular on Wall Street and Main Street

Plaintiffs Jeff Milans and Peter Cornstock are leading a coordinated effort that charges Netflix with unlawfully retaining and disclosing the watching habits of its customers. The lawsuit states that Netflix retains sensitive personal info even after customers cancel their subscriptions and alleges the company has made the info available to its advertising partners.

Netflix hasn't yet responded to the claims in court.

According to research firm First Street Research Group, Netflix has spent $270,000 on lobbying since the fourth quarter of 2010.


Twitter: @eriqgardner