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Can you trust any FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) member? Can you trust Netflix is part of our continuing series on Big Tech Trust.

It is not a matter of can you trust Netflix. As far as we know, the short answer is yes. Netflix does not track us online, package us to marketers or cross-reference our private messages or social media posts (even though Netflix has access via a Facebook login). I doubt Netflix will violate its core brand by incorporating ads into its interface.

The issue about Can you trust Netflix is more that Netflix could one day turn into the ‘Creepy Uncle’ when it realises the intrinsic value of your personally identifiable information (data). Today that uncle is benign but as he grows older, bolder, uglier and competes for more for your attention – who knows.

Our US correspondent Sam Bocetta investigates the question – Can you trust Netflix? While Sam’s view is from a US perspective, so too all the FAANG companies have their roots there.

Can you trust Netflix?

I’m going to tie Netflix to the whipping post for the way it uses customer data, although the same argument applies to any other streaming service that we put under the microscope. 

To be clear, we are talking about Amazon Prime, Disney+, Roku, Apple TV, YouTube, Foxtel, Stan, and any streaming service.

Video streaming services

Netflix is reasonably transparent about its present use of customer data – to keep customers and to serve them what they want. Its business model, unlike many others, does not revolve around serving ads, driving you to its retail or service offerings, or selling your data.

What is a video streaming service?

It is like Spotify or iTunes only it streams video content via the internet. From a user’s perspective, it is a portal to an ‘all you can eat’ movies, TV shows, documentaries and more in a relatively simple interface that works on TVs, tablets, phones, games consoles, set-top boxes, and PCs.

Netflix has a country-specific ‘catalogue’ based on the content distribution rights licences it can get. For example, it cannot get content from Disney+ or Amazon in Australia but can show it elsewhere. Catalogues vary enormously in size and scope from country to country.

It also makes recommendations based on what you watch and if you give it the thumbs up or down. That recommendation means it knows to serve shows you may like. It is important to like or dislike a show – it gets the hint quickly.

Netflix services start at A$9.99 for a basic plan (one device at a time in SD), Standard Plan $13.99 (two devices at a time in HD) and Premium Plan $19.99  (four devices at a time in HD/UHD if available). As it is a paid-for service and makes money, there is no imperative to sell your data. But any service that is free or lower cost has to supplement its income – data is the new gold.

It has local partners as well. In Australia, it is Aussie Broadband, Fetch, Foxtel, Optus, Telstra, and Vodafone – that can bill you as part of the internet services. To an extent, these partners are privy to your Netflix activities.

Netflix is the 1000lb gorilla

It has about 167 million subscribers in 190+ countries and more than 140 million hours of content viewed daily. You can read more in its Form-K 2019 annual report. It is the king of the streaming world, and it aims to be far more all-encompassing.

Amazon Prime is playing catch up claiming 150 million global members – but that is a general A$6.99 a month Amazon Prime membership, not a stand-alone streaming membership. It is also a lot more limited in its catalogue and device support.

But we all know what that means – Amazon knows our viewing habits as well and we cannot recommend that. If you enter its rabbit-hole the next thing, you know you are buying its toothpaste!