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Netflix rolls out sharing tool in U.S.

Netflix’s Facebook sharing tool could backfire if it raises privacy concerns among subscribers. (Associated Press)
Netflix’s Facebook sharing tool could backfire if it raises privacy concerns among subscribers. (Associated Press)

A long-awaited coming attraction has finally arrived for Netflix’s U.S. subscribers. They will now be able to automatically see what their Facebook friends have been watching on the Internet video service, as long as they are willing to open a peephole into their viewing habits, too.

The sharing tool announced Wednesday is rolling out 18 months after Netflix Inc. introduced the feature to its international subscribers.

The expansion exposes the feature to a much wider audience because Netflix has 27 million Internet video subscribers in the U.S. versus 6 million customers in more than 50 other countries and territories. Netflix isn’t creating an outlet for the 8.2 million subscribers to its steadily shrinking DVD-by-mail rental service to share what they’re checking out on discs.

Netflix withheld the sharing tool in the U.S. to avoid breaking a 1988 law that banned the disclosure of video rental records without a customer’s written consent. After several years of lobbying, the Los Gatos, Calif., company persuaded Congress to revise the law so that subscribers could choose to activate a video-sharing feature.

President Obama signed the amended law in January, clearing the way for Netflix to offer U.S. subscribers another way to find movies and TV shows that may appeal to their tastes. In the process, Netflix hopes to deepen subscriber loyalty and generate positive buzz about the $8-per-month service as the company strives to reach its goal of reaching 90 million customers.

Investors apparently believe the new feature will increase Netflix’s popularity and, by extension, its profits. Netflix shares stock surged by $10.25, or 5.6 percent, to close at $192.36.

The sharing tool could backfire if it raises privacy concerns as subscribers discover how much their Facebook friends are finding out about their viewing preferences.

Netflix is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen by corralling the sharing within individual subscriber accounts when the feature is first turned on. The company plans to offer all its U.S. subscribers the option by the end of this week.

Once the sharing feature is activated, new rows labeled “Friends’ Favorites” and “Watched by your friends” will be displayed within a subscriber’s account. On the flip side, any subscriber who has signed up for Facebook sharing will have their movie selections displayed with the accounts of their Facebook friends unless an extra step is taken to exclude a specific movie or TV show. What subscribers are watching won’t be posted on Facebook’s social network unless they go into their setting to permit the sharing on that website, too.

In households where multiple people share the same Netflix account, the sharing option will be tied to the Facebook account of the primary subscriber.

Samsung set to launch new iPhone challenger

Samsung’s Galaxy S III smartphone has done very well, briefly unseating the iPhone as the best-selling smartphone in the world. On Thursday, the Korean company is launching a phone it hopes can top that, and entrench the company as the main competitor to Apple.

Samsung has rented New York’s Radio City Music Hall for an event, and has been hinting that it will reveal a fourth-generation Galaxy phone. Judging by the announcement of the S III last May, this means the new phone will be available in stores in a month or two.

It’s not known what the new phone will look like or how it will differ from its predecessor, but there’s speculation that Samsung will once again increase the screen size. Every successive generation of the Galaxy line has been bigger than the one before, and the S III sports a screen that measures 4.8 inches on the diagonal, substantially larger than the iPhone 5’s 4-inch screen.

In the last two years, Samsung has emerged as Apple’s main competitor in the high-end smartphone market. At the same time, it has sold enough inexpensive low-end phones to edge out Nokia Corp. as the world’s largest maker of phones.

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