Netflix is keeping a close eye on you
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Netflix is a data-driven business, analyzing every click you make on its service. However, the extent of the personal data Netflix keeps about you and your family members – including children – may come as a shock.
Here, I’m going to show you the staggering breadth of data that Netflix holds on each of its account holders and how you can find out what the company knows about you.
The information below was gathered from a request for the personal information stored on my own account. I’ll show you how to get your personal data at the end of this article.
Let’s start with the most obvious data – Netflix obviously pays careful attention to what you’re watching and how long you’re watching for so it can (amongst other things) deliver recommendations on what to watch next.
There are several documents relating to your viewing tastes when you download your Netflix data from the site.
In the CONTENT_INTERACTION folder, ViewingActivity.csv gives you a spreadsheet showing every title you’ve watched, which device you used to watch it, whose profile was used to view the show, the date and duration of the session, and how far you got through the show in each sitting.
In my case, this data goes all the way back to when I first opened my Netflix account in 2013, meaning Netflix has a record of every single show me and my family have watched. The spreadsheet runs to several thousand entries.
Netflix keeps a viewing history going back at least eight years
What may trouble Netflix users is that their viewing history and activity is available to the account holder at any time. Could that data be abused by a controlling partner, for example, as evidence that someone was watching TV when they were meant to be doing something else? Or even give clues to undisclosed health conditions – Netflix has several health-related shows on dealing with cancer, addictions and so on.
Every single click you’ve made in a Netflix app is captured and stored by the company.
You’ll find this data in the CLICKSTREAM folder, which includes a spreadsheet logging every interaction you’ve had with the service on your phone, tablet, computer or television.
As you can see from the screenshot below, it even drills down to the precise order in which you typed search terms.
Netflix knows every letter you’ve typed into the search box
Netflix obviously uses such data to help it track click paths through its interface and improve the design of its service, to help people reach content more quickly. But it’s more than a little spooky to see every move you’ve made in Netflix tracked in such fine detail.
The clickstream isn’t the only place that logs your Netflix search habits. A much deeper search history spreadsheet is available in the CONTENT_INTERACTION folder, where at least five years of your Netflix searches are logged.
The SearchHistory document not only logs the search queries you and your family used, but the search results and what you did with them (ie. played the video, viewed suggested info etc).
The logs here include the profile user, the device used, the precise date and time, and other information. Children who were searching for something they shouldn’t maybe have the most to worry about here…
Netflix comes into its own on business trips, train journeys or holidays – and Netflix is keeping a careful eye on where you’re streaming from.
The IP_ADDRESSES folder includes three different documents, with IPAddressesStreaming.csv being the most interesting. Netflix’s information cover sheet claims this “table contains information associated with the last time a particular device was used to stream from a particular IP address”.
The information appears to be incomplete. Although my IP address data goes back to 2016, it seems to have missed several foreign trips in the past few years where I know I’ve streamed Netflix shows.
This sheet also includes a region code, which gives a rough location for the IP address. Note, however, it appears to giving the location of the ISP’s servers and not of the router used to access the service. For example, many of my location listings are in the north of England, where my broadband provider is based.
The data listed above is only a sample of the full data package that Netflix holds on its customers. If you want to see your full data file – which also includes information on social-media interactions, billing history, parental control restrictions and more – then you can submit a request to Netflix.
To fetch your data, go to Netflix.com, select the profile of the account holder, click on their icon in the top-right corner of the screen and choose Account. Under settings, click on Download your personal information. Press the button to Submit Request and Netflix will email the main account holder when the file is ready to download.
Netflix is keeping a close eye on you