Weather Forecast


Commentary: Netflix's 'creepy' tweet reminds us all how closely it's watching us

Netflix sent out a tweet Sunday that roasted a subset of its most devoted users over an open fire: those who are obsessively watching its heavily promoted holiday movie "A Christmas Prince." The snarky tweet got some laughs, but it has also stirred up some backlash - and made some of the company's subscribers begin to consider just how closely Netflix is watching its users.

"To the 53 people who've watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?" the tweet said.

While the tweet was clearly intended as a joke, it didn't sit well with some customers who found the message "creepy."

"This is amazing. Except for the 'watching us like big brother' part," one Twitter user wrote in reply.

Of course, people who watch Netflix should expect that the company knows both what you're watching and how frequently you watch it. How else could the company get super-specialized recommendations for you, such as romantic period dramas based on books? But what seems to have struck a nerve is that Netflix is using information to share viewing habits publicly.

The tone of the message is also drawing criticism. Netflix, after all, produced and promoted the movie, which is in the vein of an uplifting, unapologetically cheery Hallmark film. Shaming its subscribers, even in jest, for a feel-good film meant to cheer up its viewers didn't sit well with everyone. One user even compared the tweet to "bullying."

Many other reactions were lighter, with several people taking the opportunity to say that Netflix itself was hurting them - either by pulling their favorite shows or with its disappointing selection.

Netflix has kept up the snark in its replies, though the person running the account has also reassured some users that their viewing habits aren't worth shaming them over. Netflix didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the reaction to the tweet, which has been retweeted about 66,000 times and liked 259,000 times and has drawn 4,000 replies.

The tweet was very similar to a campaign that music-streaming service Spotify ran last year, in which it shared insights from consumer data - not naming its users, but sometimes noting individual accounts. For example, among other such ads, the campaign called out a single person with a billboard that said: "Dear person who made a playlist called: 'One Night Stand With Jeb Bush Like He's a Bond Girl in a European Casino.' We have so many questions."

Marketing messages like this don't violate companies' privacy policies, said Bradley Shear, a lawyer specializing in privacy and social media. Netflix may be sharing viewing information, but not in specific ways - they're not revealing, for example, that customer John Doe or Jane Doe is watching "A Christmas Prince" on repeat.

Still, he said, the surprise over the tweet is a reminder that people aren't always fully aware of what they're agreeing to when they click "accept" on a company's terms and conditions.

"People really need to become more cognizant of what data companies are collecting," Shear said.

Author Information: Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.