Netflix has responded with official comment, seen below:
“Reports that we look at demographics when personalizing artwork are untrue. We 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. In terms of thumbnails, these do differ and regularly change. This is to ensure that the images we show people are useful in deciding which shows to watch.”
Netflix, a notorious data collector, can probably make an educated guess as to what race you are.
But it also looks like they’re proactively using that data to show different title cards for movies and TV shows in their catalog depending on the data.
Stacia Brown noticed this trend and posted about it on Twitter. Netflix recommended her the movie ‘Like Father,’ which predominantly features Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammar as the leads, both white actors. But instead of seeing these two characters on the title card, she was shown Leonard Ouzts and Blaire Brooks, two black actors who are in the move for a handful of scenes.
Here is her tweet asking if she was the only person seeing this:
Dozens of other Twitter users hopped in and said, no, they were in fact seeing the same thing. Interestingly, though, several white people replied that they were seeing a title card featuring Bell and Grammar.
I checked my own Netflix, and as a white person, was shown Bell and Grammar as well (and in most cases, the title cards I saw featured white people).
Ms. Brown went through several other titles available on Netflix, and noticed the same trend, of black actors being prominently displayed on the title cards.
While on the surface it makes sense that Netflix would obviously use any data readily available to make the “best” recommendation to you, it seems, at minimum, incredibly ham-fisted that Netflix would use race so obtusely. It’s clear they experiment with their title cards to try and get us to watch more content, this is a clumsy attempt to do so.
Just to be clear, it makes sense that the service would show demographic-based title recommendations. But, instead of showing someone titles that predominantly feature the race they identify with, Netflix is apparently showing title cards with minor characters featured instead of the lead roles in order to drive more engagement from specific racial groups.
We have reached out to Netflix for comment, and will update the story if they respond.