Feeds

Netflix cancels recommendation contest over privacy

Not as anonymous as you think

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Netflix has canceled a contest designed to improve its movie recommendation system out of concern it might compromise the privacy of its customers.

The decision was announced in a blog post, published Friday, by Netflix chief product officer Neil Hunt. A previous competition that handed over anonymous user data to more than 50,000 contestants ended poorly after researchers showed it was possible to identify individuals' viewing habits by connecting the dots.

"In the past few months, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asked us how a Netflix Prize sequel might affect Netflix members' privacy, and a lawsuit was filed by KamberLaw LLC pertaining to the sequel," Hunt wrote. "In light of all this, we have decided to not pursue the Netflix Prize sequel that we announced on August 6, 2009."

Netflix's previous contest paid $1m for the winning submission to better predict movies users would like by crunching data of their previous selections. Researchers from the University of Texas quickly identified several users by comparing reviews in the Netflix data to those posted on the Internet Movie Database.

Late last year, a closeted lesbian mom sued Netflix for publishing data that could be used to out her. The Federal Trade Commission has also voiced its concern.

The Netflix contest is only the latest incident to highlight the hazards of data that's supposedly been scrubbed clean of any identifying information. In 2006, AOL released 20 million search queries that removed names and other personal identifiers from 658,000 users that nonetheless could be used to identify the people making the searches. Redacted GPS data may not be as anonymous as many think either, researchers have shown. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
China is ALREADY spying on Apple iCloud users, claims watchdog
Attack harvests users' info at iPhone 6 launch
Carders punch holes through Staples
Investigation launched into East Coast stores
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.