Netflix Experiment Requests ‘Physical Activity Data’

September 04, 2019
Netflix Experiment Requests ‘Physical Activity Data’

The Android app experiment set off alarms among privacy-conscious subscribers, but Netflix says it's all about trying to optimize video streaming for users on the go.

Netflix's latest experiment is raising eyebrows for trying to collect "physical activity data" from people's smartphones.

Last week, a Twitter user noticed the odd request from Netflix's Android app, and posted a screenshot. This prompted a wave of speculation, jokes, and privacy concerns over the streaming service trying to collect too much data on people's viewing habits.

However, Netflix says the experiment is all about optimizing video quality. "We are continually testing ways to give our members a better experience," the company told PCMag in a statement. "This was part of a test to see how we can improve video playback quality when a member is on the go."
Netflix say it's only testing the permission among some user accounts. "We don't currently have plans to roll it out," the company added.

The company didn't elaborate on how collecting physical activity data will optimize your video viewing. But Netflix appears to be taking advantage of a new feature in Android Q that lets apps detect when a phone is in motion, as The Next Web points out.

"Android Q introduces a new ACTIVITY_RECOGNITION runtime permission for apps that need to detect the user's step count or classify the user's physical activity, such as walking, biking, or moving in a vehicle," Google says in the documentation for the new feature.

The permission request makes more sense for an exercise-related app. But Netflix is suggesting the same feature can help it tell when you're using the service on a train or bus during a commute, and automatically let it compress the video stream accordingly.

Of course, not everyone may feel comfortable letting Netflix access such data. Users on Twitter joked that perhaps the company wants to gauge when viewers seek to "chill" during their Netflix sessions.

All Netflix movies and TV shows can be downloaded by the application.


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