Netflix knows exactly what adventure you chose during Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, long after you closed your laptop. That’s right. While you were watching the movie and deciding if the main character should eat Frosties or Sugar Puffs for breakfast, Netflix was watching you – or rather, tracking your choices.
Michael Veale, a technology policy researcher at University College London, used Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to figure this out. According to Motherboard, Veale requested the Bandersnatch data mining info from Netflix, asking the company why “it's collecting data, the categories they’re sorting data into, third parties it’s sharing the data with, and other information." Veale then posted the findings on Twitter.
In response, the company told Veale that the data is used to “help [Netflix] determine how to improve this model of storytelling in the context of a show or movie.” Seems pretty harmless, right? In this particular case it is, but according to Veale it still denotes that it’s an invasion of privacy. And even more jarring to him — and potentially the driver in the plot of a future Black Mirror storyline — is the fact that Netflix didn’t tell him just how long they’d be keeping the data.
“If you asked me, they should really be using consent (which you should be able to refuse) or legitimate interests (meaning you can object to it) instead,” Veale told the publication.
Veale is reportedly known for using GDPR to get data like this out of big tech companies and says if you’re ever weirded out by the proverbial “big brother” watching you online, you should feel empowered to reach out and request info like he did. Just be sure to ask the right questions.
“It was tricky, as I had to ask these questions specifically,” Veale said. “It's unclear if this is included by default in requests to get your data from Netflix or not — I can tell you often this kind of specific data is not included when you ask for 'all your data.’ Knowing what 'all your data' is, and what the company's definition of 'all your data' does not include, is most of the challenge.”
So, when the next Bandersnatch comes around don’t be surprised if Netflix points out how many times you poured your tea over the computer — or, more disturbingly, how many people you decided to kill.