Netflix said today that it's moving forward with a plan to integrate with Facebook by automatically sharing people's movie-watching history with their friends.
The company will only share this data if Facebook users give the go-ahead through the social networking service. But once users do so, the titles of movies they've viewed will be shown to their friends when they log into Netflix.
Netflix says that users will be able to opt out of sharing on a movie-by-movie basis -- but this only raises the question of why the company couldn't have simply allowed people to opt in on a movie-by-movie basis. Creating a system with that type of opt-in structure wouldn't have required revamping the federal Video Privacy Protection Act -- a 1988 law that prohibits movie rental companies from disclosing information about the films that consumers rent without their explicit permission.
Netflix reportedly spent around $1 million lobbying for the amendment, which lets people consent in advance to sharing the movies they watch. But for all the time and money that Netflix devoted to lobbying for the new law, it's never been clear that users want to automatically share their movie choices with Facebook friends, much less care about what movies their friends watch. In any event, people who wanted to broadcast which films they viewed could do so easily enough by posting the information directly.
The amendment that Netflix wanted passed easily in the House in 2011, but met with some initial pushback in the Senate. But late last year, the amendment cleared the Senate as well -- though with the provision that users' consent to share movie titles expires automatically after two years.
President Barack Obama signed the amendment into law in January.