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Netflix users in Canada and Latin America will soon be able to see what streaming videos their Facebook friends have been watching, but those of us in the U.S. will have to wait a bit longer due to a 1980s law regulating wrongful disclosure of video tape rental or sale records.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings hit the stage at Facebook’s f8 developer conference today to announce the news, which could fundamentally change the way Netflix users get recommendations. But while it’s a big shift for the company, enthusiasm about the social integration was dampened by its unavailability in the U.S.
“We won’t yet enable it for U.S. members due to a 1980s law that creates some confusion over our ability to allow U.S. members to share what they watch,” Netflix’s Tom Willerer wrote today on the company’s blog. The company points out that new legislation (H.R. 2471) has been introduced that will allow consumers to share their viewing data. To help the legislation along, Netflix has launched a campaign asking its subscribers to email Congress in support.
Netflix killed off its homegrown social features some time ago, and since then it has relied entirely on its algorithm to recommend content to viewers. In 2009, the company awarded a $1 million prize to a team of statisticians who created an algorithm that best its own. But now, Hastings seems to realize there’s some value in listening to your friends.
At F8, he talked about how Netflix would constantly recommend the TV series “Breaking Bad” to him, but it wasn’t until he saw a friend watching it that he felt the urge to start. “Watching content ‘because my friend did it’ really trumped [sic] ‘because the algorithm,” Hastings said.
The Facebook integration will start rolling out in Canada and Latin America before the end of September. Once available, subscribers only need to connect to their Facebook accounts from Netflix’s webpage. The company stresses that your viewing habits will only be shared if you connect to your Facebook account, and the feature can be turned off at any point.