We’re told don’t judge a book by its cover, but in the case of Netflix – which boasts the title of the world's leading internet entertainment service – it becomes even more true. Netflix has built it’s multi-billion-dollar streaming company on ‘suggested viewing” but some viewers believe Netflix has taken it too far. Netflix has been accused of changing the film posters that appear on screen depending on who the intended audience is. For example, some black viewers claimed that black actors featured in its advertising of films despite the fact they had minor roles and the major roles were primarily white.
Some film audiences have cited the popular example of Love Actually. The film primarily stars white actors Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, but the advertising poster that many black viewers saw featured the black actor Chiwetel Ejiofor despite only having a minor in the film.
Similarly, black viewers noticed that actors from ethnic minorities were shown on the artwork detective series Lewis rather than its white stars, Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox. Many viewers have called Netflix marketing misleading and intrusive. Other film audiences believe that this could become a much bigger problem as Netflix algorithms become more knowledgeable in what could become similar to the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
This controversy comes after Netflix introduced a brand new algorithm that provides personalized movie posters to its 137 million subscribers around the world. With this new algorithm, different images are generated for each title to cater towards what Netflix believes a specific user may be most interested in clicking on.
Netflix has long used AI learning and its proprietary algorithms to parse nuanced trends within its content and user data to A/B test into more than two thousand taste groups. From there it not only recommends television shows and movies that viewers might like but actually creates shows based upon the data they have created. Netflix found that many of its viewers liked political dramas so it decided to make House of Cards with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.
The inclusion of minor characters on the posters suggests that these individuals have larger roles than they actually do has given rise to claims to false advertising which can lead to lawsuits or even jail time under the Consumer Protection Act.
Netflix responded to accusations of basing posters on a subscriber’s ethnicity by replying that they don’t ask members for their race, gender or ethnicity so we cannot use this information to personalize their individual Netflix experience. The only information we use is a member’s viewing history. Since the algorithms are proprietary we can only take Netflix’s word for it.
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