Netflix Drops Prize Sequel to Better Protect User Privacy


Remember last year when Netflix gave away $1 million to researchers who helped improve the algorithm it uses to recommend movies to customers? The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the company has dropped plans for a second contest, citing privacy concerns raised by the Federal Trade Commission and a lawsuit that had been filed pertaining to the contest.


The Wall Street Journal pointed to the Netflix blog, in which chief product officer, Neil Hunt, wrote:

We have reached an understanding with the FTC and have settled the lawsuit with plaintiffs. The resolution to both matters involves certain parameters for how we use Netflix data in any future research programs.

According to a letter from the FTC, those parameters include only releasing the data to researchers who "contractually agree to specific limitations on its use," "operational safeguards" to prevent the data's misuse, and "further discussions" with the agency before the data is released.


Given the terms to which Netflix has agreed, the FTC is closing the investigation, but reserves the right to take further action if necessary. Dropping the contest makes sense, and is, frankly, the only option the company has at this point, but commenters to Hunt's blog post are anything but happy.


Comments like "another example of 'the man' keeping us down," abound. But my favorite?

Privacy is an illusion.... Maybe every person who wants privacy should go back to the cave they thought they were living in and stop using the [I]nternet.