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Netflix Recorded All the Answers You Gave in Bandersnatch
Given Netflix’s longstanding record of tracking its users’ viewing habits, those of us who watched the choose-your-own-adventure film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch had reason to suspect that the streaming service might have monitored the choices we made. And now, one expert confirmed that Netflix was recording us all along.
Michael Veale, a technology policy researcher at University College London, used the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation laws to request his own information from Netflix. “People had been speculating a lot on Twitter about Netflix’s motivations,” Veale told Motherboard. “I thought it would be a fun test to show people how you can use data protection law to ask real questions you have.” Netflix complied, ponying up Veale’s Bandersnatch data. It turns out that the company didn’t make it clear to viewers that their data would be collected, and they didn’t tell Veale how long they plan to store the info.
Netflix has put user data to work in countless ways, and has built an original content empire with the help of information collected from users’ viewing habits. After analyzing data that suggested audiences were fans of the work of Kevin Spacey and David Fincher, the company bought two seasons of its first-ever original series—the Fincher-directed House of Cards. More ominously, Netflix was found late last year to have partnered with Facebook and was given the ability to access private messages from the social network’s users.
As the company pointed out in its statement to Veale, it would be pretty much impossible for Netflix to accurately bring to life Bandersnatch’s branching narratives without keeping track of the choices we made along the way. What’s less clear, however, is why that data should be stored by the company long after the credits roll. While some Netflix users may be fine with a platform they enjoy using their data to produce well-received content, tech companies’ history of sharing data raises concerns about the possibilities of outside entities accessing such information. It’s hard to imagine a more seamless pairing of advertising and consumer research than having the public choose between Frosties and Sugar Puffs from the comfort of our couches.
Veale pushed back against Netflix’s insistance that keeping his Bandersnatch data was necessary. “Is storing that data against my account really ‘necessary’?” he asked Motherboard. “They clearly haven’t delinked it or anonymised it, as I’ve got access to it long after I watched the show. If you asked me, they should really be using consent (which you should be able to refuse) or legitimate interests (meaning you can object to it) instead.”