Future Tense

Court Says It’s Not Netflix’s Fault When You Let Someone See Your Embarrassing Watch List

Big brother is watching … like, literally your older brother who you share the account with.

Photo by Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

For years I shared a Netflix account with a friend and her brother. One day, my friend confronted me about some, ahem, amusing activity on the account. “Lily, did you watch Grease twice and then start The Aristocats?” But it actually wasn’t me! Her brother’s secret (or whoever he had shared the account with) was out.

In a class-action lawsuit, plaintiffs alleged that Netflix was violating the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act and a California civil code by allowing “family, friends, and guests” to see their viewing histories. The idea was that even if you gave someone your streaming password, it was still a violation of your privacy for Netflix to show them what you had been watching.


A district court held that Netflix had not violated users’ privacy when they voluntarily shared access to their accounts, and Friday, as TechDirt reports, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this decision. “The fact that a subscriber may permit third parties to access her account, thereby allowing third parties to view Netflix’s disclosures, does not alter the legal status of these disclosures,” Judge Edward J. Davila wrote. “No matter the particular circumstances at a subscriber’s residence, Netflix’s actions remain the same.”

With so much bulk data collection going on everywhere, it’s kind of refreshing to hear that a digital service actually did something right. But we certainly all feel the pain of having your house guest discover that you’ve been watching nothing but Good Eats for the past three weeks.