Like musicals about fishing? Netflix has you reeled in
The Meming of Life: The streaming service knows exactly what you like – be afraid
Your account is almost certainly completely unique among Netflix’s 125 million-plus userbase
Anyone with Netflix will have found themselves getting recommended genres of content so bewilderingly specific they seem like parodies of themselves. How, you wonder, could it have predicted I wanted to browse every one of its “bank robbery rom-coms” or “musicals about fishing”? The answer is that Netflix knows a lot about you, so much in fact, your account is almost certainly completely unique among Netflix’s 125 million-plus userbase.
To start with genre categories, Netflix actually has more than 77,000 of these, and the types you’re shown will therefore be a unique blend of those many flavours. (Although, you can randomly peruse its entire stock of options by entering netflix.com/browse/genre/X in your browser and replacing the X with a random number of your choice).
Netflix then takes data from the shows you watch, the length of said sessions, and the time it takes you to hover over even those shows you don’t watch, and tailors your experience based on all that data. Meaning, it curates not only the content it shows you, but the order in which it does so, and even the images with which that content is advertised.
Writing for Cracked.com, writer Jason Pargin noted the thumbnails he and his wife saw varied widely across their two accounts. His wife’s saw French thriller The Forest trailed with a relatively neutral image of a wolf, while his library represented the same show via a naked woman looking despondent in a woodland. Similarly, E4’s knockabout comic horror Crazyhead came billed for his wife with an image of its two female stars looking sassy and self-possessed, while his account showed them mid-scream, covered in blood, and – weirdly enough – back in a wooded area again.
In assessing dozens of shows, he found the same patterns repeating: his wife being advertised neutral or positive imagery, while he got slightly darker fare. Pargin was also at pains to stress it wasn’t just sexual imagery, but mildly disturbing imagery that made the cut, the kind that would most appeal to a guy who balances his love for binge-watching boxsets with murdering women in the woods.
Of course, if you share an account with a housemate or partner, you can try out these discrepancies first-hand, and try to work out what dark and damning things the service seems to have discerned about you. While Netflix refuses to confirm why it chooses certain images for certain users, it’s clear that some dark intelligence is guiding its ability to second-guess your deepest desires.
Be careful how long you gaze into that screen, because it’s almost certainly gazing back.