Hollywood movies: Coming to a Facebook page near you

Want to rent Batman: The Dark Knight? You can now do it via Facebook. More movies may follow. A box office smash? Not exactly.

So I watched The Dark Knight again today. That makes viewing #4, I think. The only difference between this viewing and the first three is that this time I did it on Facebook.

It seems there is no pie Facebook does not want to stick its finger in, and the latest baked confection the social network is eyeing appears to be Hollywood. Warner Bros and Facebook launched a little experiment this week: Visit the Batman: The Dark Knight fan page on Facebook and you can have the movie streamed directly to you for 30 Facebook credits ($3). That gives you the right to watch it on your computer for up to 48 hours.

the dark knight on facebook

My reaction? The late Heath Ledger – fantastic. Christian Bale, not so much. Movies on Facebook? Meh.

[ See also: Facebook: A cop's best friend ]

ITworld blogger Chris Nerney has written about the business implications of Facebook getting into movie streaming (ie, cement overshoes for Netflix). I’m not convinced FB will eat Netflix’s lunch, necessarily – or Amazon’s, Hulu’s, Red Box’s, or anyone else in the flicks-for-couch-potatoes biz.

As far as I can see, the only advantage to renting a movie on Facebook is so you can brag to your friends about it via the ubiquitous Like and Share buttons. Meanwhile, there are several disadvantages. It’s far less seamless than signing up for Netflix or Amazon video, at least at this early stage. You have to log into Facebook, find the fan page, click through a few screens, install a Facebook app, and buy credits.

It’s not difficult or time consuming, but I’m at a computer with a keyboard and a mouse. It would be a different story if I had to do that with a TV remote – and the living room is where I want to watch most of my movies.

Compare that to NetFlix or Amazon, both of which I can get to from a variety of devices already attached to my HDTV – Roku, TiVo, Xbox, etc. – with one or two clicks. That’s an easy choice.

Other problems: Image quality wasn’t particularly great, and when I paused my movie and returned to it later it started over from the beginning. Oops.

But for now, let’s assume Facebook gets into the streaming movie biz and makes a go of it. Let’s also assume they work out the kinks, provide one -click access to Facebook movies via the set top box of your choice, and offer a broad array of films catering to a variety of tastes (yes, including the naughty ones).

My question: What happens to all that information it gathers about the movies we watch? By default, the Watch Dark Knight app access all the information you’ve shared with “Everyone.” If your profile is wide open, that means everything.

dark knight app permissions

Strangely, home video rentals are one of the exceedingly rare places in US life covered by their own privacy law – the Video Privacy Protection Act, aka the infamous Bork law, enacted after dumpster diving reporters revealed the Blockbuster habits of would-be Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. (Nothing exciting to report, I’m afraid.) Shortly thereafter, Congress passed a law making the titles of movies you’ve rented at Blockbuster et al private, to be revealed only with your consent or a legal court order.

As far as I know, no court has ever tested whether that law applies to video downloads and streaming. (If one of my 17 devoted readers knows otherwise, I’d love to hear about it.)

Nonetheless, even if the Bork law applies, Facebook has access to information about you that probably no other Internet entity has. So even if they never reveal what movies you watch, they can certainly take the information you’ve shared – including the movies you’ve rented – and sell that to the studios (so that you see trailers for the next Batman movie, for example), companies selling ancillary products (Batman action figures), events involving spandex-wearing superheroes (tickets to ComicCon, anyone?), and so on. That’s where the real money is to be made, not in taking a thin slice out of a $3 sale.

And if your cinematic tastes run more towards Naughty Nuns in Bondage, one can only imagine the kinds of ads you might see.

Only Google has anything approaching the volume of data Facebook has about you, and it’s incomplete and scattered among a dozen different services. Do you really want Facebook to know what movies you like, too?

ITworld TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan has never rented a movie about naughty nuns, but he understands they can be habit forming. Yes, it does get worse – see  eSarcasm (Geek Humor Gone Wild) for evidence of that, or follow him on Twitter:@tynan_on_tech.

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