Netflix forced to delete ex-user rental data

A class-action lawsuit has led to Netflix changing its privacy policy.

The rental service has modified the way it handles data such that if you unsubscribe from the site, any rental activity on your account that is more than a year old will no longer be tied to you.

This means that no one – not even Netflix – will be able to look back at your past movie choices, and after you’ve been gone from Netflix for a year there will be no way to pull any rental data.

The company was pressured to make this decision as part of a class-action lawsuit.

Because the site was violating a law known as the Video Privacy Protection Act, it was forced to settle the major lawsuit for $9 million. The vast majority of that went to privacy organizations that spearheaded the legal action, but in addition to the money Netflix agreed to change its practives.

The law in question was passed in 1988 and every time it comes up in the news, it always gets a footnote that the only reason it was entered into legislation in the first place was because Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s movie rental history (which included some off-color titles) were published in a local newspaper.

Netflix is no stranger to the law and has lobbyists actively trying to get it scrubbed from the books. For now, though, it has to play by the rules.

Because of the drastically different climate between online video streaming and DVD-by-mail services, Netflix tried to separate the two services last year. The move ended up blowing up in its face, and was partly to blame for the company’s first ever quarterly subscriber decline.