Where Is Netflix’s Facebook App?
Want to share your favorite music with your Facebook friends? Spotify has got your back. What you read on The Washington Post or pretty much any major news source? Social readers are there. And of course games like Farmville and Scramble With Friends pull others into the action. But an obscure 1980s law is preventing Netflix from starting their own Facebook app in the US, and it’s highlighting the problem of legislating on rapidly changing technologies.
The Video Privacy Protection Act was passed in 1988 after the failed Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork showed conservatives the downside of a “strict originalist” interpretation of the Constitution. Bork was known to believe that Americans were only entitled to privacy protections explicitly mentioned in legislation; so Washington City Paper reporter Michael Dolan convinced a video store clerk to give him Bork’s rental history, and published it. The list was unremarkable, but the threat was made.
Congress quickly passed VPPA a few months later. The law prohibits “a video tape service provider” from disclosing its customers’ “personally identifiable information,” unless the customer provides written consent.
It’s clear that Congress tried, in 1988, to legislate for a post-VHS world, referring to “prerecorded video cassette tapes or similar audio visual materials.” But Netflix said the vague language leaves the present-day situation unclear.
The law has made for some strange loopholes. For example, Hulu is able to successfully operate a Facebook app without violating the law, perhaps because they only stream videos online and do not also provide DVDs.
What do you think? Should Congress update the VPPA? How can laws protect technological privacy without creating these problems?