All the ways Netflix tracks you and what you watch

I share a Netflix account with my husband and we use separate profiles – although these are tangled because we often watch Netflix together. Looking at my data, Rowenna Fielding, founder and director of privacy consultancy Miss IG Geek, says she could work out I am in a relationship with a man, what our income bracket is via the devices we are using, and our beliefs, values and cultural backgrounds reflected by the content we watch. She can see the location of my home via the IP address and work out when I am using a VPN.

If you share a Netflix account with a partner, flatmate or family member, you will each be able to see what the other is watching. Sharing passwords also gives others access to all your account information. In addition, if you request a download of your data, you can obtain their information – but they can’t ask Netflix for a copy of their own data unless their profile is connected to a separate email address.

Netflix’s data sharing

Netflix’s privacy policy says data can be shared between partners and suppliers such as your TV or internet service provider, streaming media device providers, mobile phone carriers and voice assistant platform providers.

Netflix says it does not sell ads, member information or engage in third-party advertising.

However, while Netflix uses your data to give you a good experience, there is “no telling what everyone else is using it for”, says Fielding. She says Netflix’s privacy notice is “quite good” compared to many other online services, but she thinks it lacks adequate detail on which data is used for which purposes and how. “This means data subjects can’t determine which of their rights apply to which data and processing. It is particularly concerning in relation to use of third party services for tracking, profiling and content targeting, which represent a significant privacy risk.”

“Unless it’s clear and transparent that they don’t do something, there’s every possibility they are doing it,” says Emily Overton, managing director of data protection consultancy RMGirl. According to Netflix’s privacy notice, it or partners could do several things, she says. “Collecting data that you cannot opt out of; using that data to push marketing where consent allows to get more data; and selling data they collect to advertising agencies.”

What you can do to stop Netflix data collection

Because it is so core to the service you sign up to, there is no way to turn off personalisation on Netflix. “There is very little scope to restrict the collection of device, connection or activity information which is collected by default,” says Will Richmond-Coggan, a technology and privacy specialist at Nottingham based law firm Freeths LLP. “People will have to take a view on whether they are comfortable sharing that information with Netflix, but much of it feeds into the core functionality of the platform.”

Despite this there are some options you can enable in your account settings to increase your privacy. If you go to Account, Settings you can opt out of test participation, a setting that involves you in Netflix test scenarios such as ads for other Netflix shows.

In your Account settings, scrolling down and clicking on your profile will take you to Communications Settings, which Netflix has defaulted to On. You can turn these off by unticking the boxes, but it will stop you from receiving updates on new shows and personalised suggestions. In your profile, under Marketing Communications, you can also ensure you haven’t opted in to allowing Netflix to use your contact information “to send promotional communications on third party services”.