Netflix recorded and stored every decision that viewers made in choose-your-own-adventure film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a British technology policy researcher has discovered.
According to Motherboard, Michael Veale of the University College London wanted to know data Netflix was collecting from users who streaming Bandersnatch.
Veale then requested this data from Netflix using Netflix Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which grants EU citizens a right to access the information that companies are collecting from them.
In response, Netflix revealed to them that it is tracking the decisions its users make and keeping that data long after the user has finished the film. Further, the company told Veale that it stores aggregated forms of the user choices to “help [Netflix] determine how to improve this model of storytelling in the context of a show or movie.”
To be sure, a major corporation collecting data on user behaviour is hardly surprising, especially when it’s a company as focused on profile-tailored algorithms like Netflix.
However, what’s most notable about this data collection, according to Veale, is the fact that Netflix doesn’t ask for permission to store this information. Veale said this entire experiment was intended to show consumers they can use data laws to learn more about the information companies collect on them. He also said he wants this experience to encourage companies to be more transparent.
It’s worth noting that it’s typical in gaming (a medium that heavily inspired Bandersnatch) for choose-your-own-adventure titles to collect information pertaining to users’ choices, but developers and publishers are often much more upfront about it.
For example, the now-shuttered Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series and PlayStation 4 exclusive Until Dawn both tell you from the start that they’ll be keeping track of your choices. At the end of the experience, they’ll also compare your choices to those made by other players to let you know how many people agreed or disagreed with your decision.
While he criticized Netflix for not seeking user permission to collect data, he did acknowledge that the reports the company sent to him did a “comparatively good” job at making the data intelligible. He noted that many companies who divulge information often do so in an unclear manner.