The Good Kind of Big Data?

It’s a thin line between exploitation and service. And it’s a good time to think about how much you want to help out Big Data efforts.


Netflix is currently being hailed as TV of the Future. For those not in the know, here’s how it works. It’s basically the same as every other subscription service on the Internet. Users pay a monthly fee and they can watch TV shows and movies to their hearts’ desires. It costs $7.99 currently, but it will be $8.99 soon. With 62.3 million users worldwide, assuming all pay in dollars, Netflix rakes in about 498 million a month.

The streaming service managed to become one of history’s most successful TV channels and is responsible for about 37 percent of all internet traffic. This has led the company from Los Gatos, CA, to produce their own TV series. Again, they were successful. Partnering up with comic book company Marvel, they made the most downloaded TV show of all time — Daredevil. And this fall, they’re hoping to double up with Alias Jessica Jones.

Despite all the success, Netflix managed to make people concerned with privacy to be rather nervous for a second. Netflix has analyzed their viewers’ data and figured out the point where viewers became addicted to a show — hooked as they call it.

When TV Watches You

Among other things, the analysts have deducted the following points of people being hooked:

  • Arrow: Episode 8. Oliver Queen aka. The Arrow realizes that his erstwhile ally Helena Bertinelli aka. The Huntress is not committed to making Star City a better place, but is consumed by vengeance and quite possibly insane.
  • Breaking Bad: Episode 2. Due to not really knowing what they’re doing, a dead body, partially disolved by acid falls through the ceiling.
  • Daredevil: Episode 5. The titular hero is hunted by police and the episode ends with him being surrounded by police in the end.

Basically, there needs to be some kind of personal, dramatic highlight in order to get viewers to be invested in a show. This contrasts with previous TV producer wisdom that the pilot episode is the most deciding factor in getting long term viewers.

As funny as this sounds, this is something the responsible TV viewer should think about. Because a viewer is no longer just audience but also someone who’s being watched. Their behaviour is recorded and analyzed. With the study that aggregates data from 16 countries Netflix gains the ability to modify TV series in a way to make fans stay with a series for the longest possible time. The obvious consequences: Maximizing profit and tying customers to a business.

Service vs. Exploitation

Now, here’s the thing. Nobody gets damaged by the Big Data analysis that Netflix did. In the end, the situation is this: People get better TV shows, Netflix gets more money. Everyone wins. Cool, right?

Almost. Depending on how you look at it, there’s something to be said against the exploitation of client habits, even if Netflix has publicly stated that they’re not planning to write shows in a way that they’re as addictive as possible.

The question is the one about how much privacy viewers want to give up on. And it’s a pretty good time to ask the question seeing as there’s no urgent need to act yet.

Exploitation Unavoidable

Maybe rephrasing the question or rather, altering the situation, helps. If a supermarket has a bonus point scheme, offering discounts if you have a customer card that you show whenever you pay, they get detailled client data. They also bind their clients to their business, because who doesn’t like discounts? This also gives businesses the oportunity to plan prices in a way that they still maximize profits despite discounts.

Clients offer insight and ways how clients will spend even more money. For a little discount. In the end, clients spend more money and ends up leaving the shop with a smile.

It is naïve to believe that Netflix or someone else will never try to exploit findings of their analyses. Because as opposed to audiences, companies are not particularly interested in good entertainment, but in in profits only, made off of their clients.

Generally, companies are not as benevolent as they would like us to think. Because in the end, all companies want to make a profit. If inadequate laws and regulations make it possible, morals and ethics are not something to be concerned with, after all.

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