Netflix Removing Rental History from Public API

Curtis Chen
Aug. 31 2012, 10:00AM EDT

On Saturday, September 15th, some major changes will hit the Netflix Public API. Possibly the most significant and likely to impact developers is the removal of user rental history data. The Netflix catalog index files are also being replaced by new versions--and being split into separate streaming and DVD data sets. Read on for more details on these updates.

Netflix announced back in June that it was making these changes to its API program--not just the technical implementation, but also the Terms of Use. At the time, some feared that the changes--including apparent prohibitions against developers monetizing their apps--would cripple third-party apps, but Netflix quickly released clarifications to assure developers that the sky was not falling. In short, Netflix will continue to allow developers to sell third-party apps directly to consumers, but does not allow use of its public API for business-to-business reselling.

Still, removing rental history data from the API is a significant change, and likely to ruffle some developer feathers (though it shouldn't affect web apps like Qup.tv, which don't depend on any user history for functionality). Some have speculated that a class action lawsuit concerning the retention of Netflix customer information may be to blame for this alteration. As part of the settlement, Netflix has agreed to change its privacy policy and "decouple" any personal identification from the rental history of former customers. Allowing third parties to access rental history data through the API, and store that data outside of Netflix's control, could be seen as a violation of that policy.

At a higher level, the fact that Netflix is separating its streaming and DVD catalogs should be a strong signal to developers about the company's business plans. Despite last year's disastrous attempt to spin off its DVD service, Netflix still seems determined to bring its customers--and developers--into a future where streaming video serves all their entertainment needs.

Read all about the Netflix Public API at developer.netflix.com/docs.

Curtis Chen Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley; now a science fiction writer and puzzle hunt maker near Portland, Oregon. You may have seen his "Cat Feeding Robot" Ignite presentation. Curtis is not an aardvark.

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