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Netflix wants your smartphone's physical activity data (Update: Test done)

Netflix explained why it wants the data, but we're still scratching our heads.

Published onAugust 2, 2019

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Update, August 2, 2019 (12:46 PM ET): In a statement sent to The Verge, Netflix confirmed it ended its physical activity data collection test. Netflix also said it has no plans to roll out the data-gathering test more widely, with only a select group of users initially part of the test.

Original article, July 31, 2019 (10:26 AM ET): It appears Netflix is running a new experiment that involves the app asking Android smartphone users for permission to collect physical activity data. The company gave a statement as to why it is doing this, but the reasoning doesn’t make much sense to us.

Twitter user @BetoOnSecurity was the first to notice the new permissions. They sent a message to the official Netflix Twitter account asking why the company would need physical activity data.

Check out the tweet below:

Hey @netflix why does your Android app want physical activity data?
— Beto on Security(back to basics now) (@BetoOnSecurity) July 27, 2019

Later, The Next Web picked up the story and obtained a statement from the company. Netflix confirmed that it is collecting physical activity data as part of a test. It explained that the data is for improving video quality while users are “on the go.”

Check out the statement below:

We are continually testing ways to give our members a better experience. This was part of a test to see how we can improve video playback quality when a member is on the go. Only some accounts are in the test, and we don’t currently have plans to roll it out.

The statement seems innocuous enough, but we’re still scratching our heads. We’re assuming the company is examining if there’s a correlation between users who are moving from one place to another and the video stream quality during that movement. However, if that is the case, it’s not clear how Netflix would be able to do anything about this, as it doesn’t control smartphone connection hardware nor does it control cell towers. It’s possible it could lower video resolution during certain movements to prevent video playback errors, but this seems overly complicated with too many variables involved.

It’s much more likely that Netflix is using this data to examine what users do when they watch videos on the go to better understand its customers.

What do you think? Are you uncomfortable with Netflix asking for physical activity data? Let us know in the comments.

NEXT: The saddest movies on Netflix right now

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