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U.S. House approves changes to Video Privacy Protection Act

December 18, 2012|By Dawn C. Chmielewski
  • Netflix CEO Reed Hastings talks about new features that would be offered to subscribers on Facebook during the social network's f/8 conference in San Francisco last year.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings talks about new features that would be offered… (Associated Press / Paul…)

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would make it easier for people to share their video viewing habits on Facebook, even as it failed to take action on a broader email privacy law.

The amendment to the Video Privacy Protection Act would allow companies like Netflix to obtain a blanket consent from consumers before sharing information with their Facebook friends about what movies or TV shows they're watching. 

It updates a 1988 law enacted in the wake of Judge Robert H. Bork's contentious Supreme Court nomination hearings, when a weekly newspaper in Washington, D.C., published the judge's video rental history.

The change to the video privacy law requires a full vote of the Senate before the new rules would take effect. The same measure was approved last month by the Senate Judiciary Committee -- minus a provision that would have restricted the government's access to some emails that can now be obtained without a warrant. 

“We are pleased the House has moved to modernize the VPPA, giving consumers more freedom to share with friends when they want," Netflix said in a statement. "We look forward to swift action in the Senate."

The decades-old video privacy law has prevented Netflix from enabling its subscribers to allow their friends on Facebook to know what shows and movies they're streaming -- the kind of information that the service believes would help enhance content discovery.

Facebook users already share the songs they're listening to through on-demand music services such as Spotify.

Civil liberties advocates criticized the failure of the House to enact broader reforms approved in November by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would require law enforcement agencies to obtain search warrants for emails and other electronic communications stored by third parties.

"Changes to electronic privacy cannot happen piecemeal," American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Chris Calabrese said in a statement.


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