Netflix Contest Seen As Posing Privacy Risk

Privacy advocates are questioning Netflix’s plan to release “anonymized” data as part of an effort to crowdsource improvements to its recommendation system.

…Although Netflix says it won’t release customers’ names, some privacy experts say interested researchers will be able to determine people’s identities from other data that Netflix will make available.

NetflixOn Monday, University of Colorado law professor Paul Ohm issued a public plea to Netflix to change its plans. “Researchers have known for more than a decade that gender plus ZIP code plus birthdate uniquely identifies a significant percentage of Americans (87% according to Latanya Sweeney’s famous study),” Ohm wrote. He added that even without exact birthdates, interested researchers will be able “to tie many people directly to these supposedly anonymized new records.”

Ohm says that the planned release might violate the federal Video Privacy Protection Act, which bans movie rental stores from revealing personally identifiable information about consumers…

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