Netflix’ A Christmas Prince tweet: A gaffe or invasion of privacy?

Popular video streaming service Netflix has found itself in the middle of a heated privacy debate after it tweeted about certain users binge-watching A Christmas Prince 18 days in a row!

Netflix needs to educate millions of subscribers about what data it collects, how user data is protected, and how it balances statistical data collection with privacy rights.

Its common knowledge that streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, that offer fully-digitised services, collect a range of data on viewer preferences, respective popularity of individual movies and TV shows in different regions, and what people search for to deliver curated content and recommendations.

As such, whenever a user browses through a list of shows on Netflix and previews some of them, his/her viewing pattern is picked up by AI tools employed by Netflix wich then recommends new shows to the user. However, many people are either unaware of such data collection practices or are indifferent about them, and thus are quite surprised when presented with the facts.

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Yesterday, Netflix US tweeted a joke that a lot of people found funny, but many other didn't for the tweet seemed to breach the privacy of users and their viewing habits. This is what Netflix tweeted:

The tweet resulted in reactions from a number of people who said they were scared about how Netflix monitored their viewing habits and probably created their profiles based on such viewing habits. Some of those reactions are as follows:

'Suddenly I am very concerned about what @netflix thinks of our Teen Titans Go viewing habits.'

'I'm now concerned with my love for @Netflix Subgenre Crime Documentaries choices unfairly profiling me!'

'Ok @Netflix you are creeping me out that you keep tabs on us like that...and just so we are clear, I'm a writer/filmmaker so all those horror movies with tons of sex and nudity were watched repeatedly for educational purposes only!'

While it is not clear how Netflix ensures that employees aren't able to access viewing preferences of individual users, a number of people are questioning if its right for the company to reveal what users watch on a public platform.

If you're among those 18 people who watched A Christmas Prince 18 days in a row, you would certainly feel that your viewing habit is being mocked on a public platform and that it is a matter of time before some Netflix employee reveals your identity.

Trevor Timm, Executive Director at @FreedomofPress, posed a flurry of queries on Twitter which found a lot of takers:

'Some questions for reporters to ask Netflix:
—How many employees have access to people's viewing habits?
—Are there any controls on how they can access this data/what it can be used for?
—What's the punishment for creeping on people?
—Why are they publicly shaming customers?' he tweeted.

According to Shane Dingman, a reporter with The Globe, this isn't the first time that Netflix has shared viewer preferences, since the company previously 'sent Canadian journos an example of a user who watch Lord of the Rings Return of the King 361 times in a year'.

Even though Netflix hasn't officially responded to the allegations of invasion of privacy, a number of Twitter users have jumped to its defence, stating that its a no-brainer that Netflix knows how many times shows are being watched and who watches them.

'How do you expect a store to run if they don’t know how their products are being used? How do you expect them to recommend new products to their buyers? How is this creepy when their library is public?,' wrote one user.

'It’s not spying. They haven’t released anything personal. The search query itself was probably anonymous as well: “find all movies that were played every day in december and # users of each,' he added.

While both viewpoints could be right in certain ways, it remains to be seen how Netflix responds to the hullabaloo considering that its tweet has, within a day, garnered over 100,000 retweets and 400,000 likes. Whatever be its response, one thing it must do is accurately informing users about its data collection practices, how it stores such data, and who gets to access such data so that its millions of users don't feel violated when it posts similar tweets in the future.