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Lesbian Mom Netflix Outed Me


A lesbian mother is suing Netflix for privacy invasion, charging that the video-rental giant outed her through its disclosure of anonymous information about customers as part of a high-profile contest to improve its recommendation system.

The suit, Doe v. Netflix, was filed in federal court in California Thursday and seeks more than $2,500 in damages for each of more than two million Netflix customers, according to Wired.

"In order to get a better movie recommendation algorithm, the online DVD rental company gave more than 50,000 Netflix Prize contestants two massive datasets. The first included 100 million movie ratings, along with the date of the rating, a unique ID number for the subscriber, and the movie info. Based on this data from 480,000 customers, contestants had to come up with a recommendation algorithm that could predict 10 percent better than Netflix how those same subscribers rated other movies," reports Wired.

However, the suit charges that the seemingly anonymous data actually allowed contestants to determine the unique identity of Netflix customers.

"So it wasn't surprising that just weeks after the contest began, two University of Texas researchers -- Arvind Narayanan and Vitaly Shmatikov -- identified several Netflix users by comparing their 'anonymous' reviews in the Netflix data to ones posted on the Internet Movie Database website. Revelations included identifying their political leanings and sexual orientation," reports Wired.

The data remains accessible on the Internet, although the contest ended this summer. The suit asks Netflix to refrain from launching another contest to improve the recommendations, which would give out even more personalized data such as zipcodes, ages, and gender.

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