Black Mirror took a step up in its meta aesthetic in the last gasp of 2018 with the release of Bandersnatch on Netflix, a “choose your own adventure”-style streaming event where you controlled the choices of its main protagonist, aspiring computer programmer Stefan Butler. At one point, viewers were even given the opportunity to tell Stefan that he was being watched on Netflix – and it would be an understatement to say that doing so freaked the poor kid out.
But was there another level at play during the Bandersnatch experiment, one where Netflix was watching us watching Stefan? Yes, indeed. The future is complicated like that (we wrote about the film’s illusion of choice here). Not only was Netflix observing us and recording our choices (the streaming service has previously dished out fascinating nuggets of information about which choices were more popular in certain scenarios) but it is also storing them against our accounts long after we’ve turned the TV off, to “help [Netflix] determine how to improve this model of storytelling in the context of a show or movie.”
Yes, just like Stefan, we are lab rats, which isn’t entirely surprising in this day and age, but it concerned Michael Veale, who is currently a technology policy researcher over at University College London. He used the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) service to request the Bandersnatch data mining info from Netflix, asking why “it’s collecting data, the categories they’re sorting data into, third parties it’s sharing the data with, and other information.”
The answers were complex, and you can (and should) read more about them over at Motherboard:
“They claim they’re doing the processing as it’s ‘necessary’ for performing the contract between me and Netflix.” Veale told the site. “Is storing that data against my account really ‘necessary’? They clearly haven’t delinked it or anonymised it, as I’ve got access to it long after I watched the show. If you asked me, they should really be using consent (which you should be able to refuse) or legitimate interests (meaning you can object to it) instead.”
“I’m hoping it inspires people to reach to their rights in situations like these, and to normalize them,” Veale explained to Motherboard. “When companies get more and more requests, they’ll have to streamline them for the sake of economising, and that in turn will benefit all users.”
What do you reckon your Bandersnatch choices say about you, and do you care if Netflix stores them for later use? Still scratching your head about what happened in the film? We broke down its multiple endings here.