For better or worse -- and I'm sure some people find it annoying -- Facebook works with various apps and other web sites in ways that make it easy to share what you're watching, reading or listening to with others.
If I'm using the online music service Spotify, for example, and a song comes up that I really, really love and want to tell my friends about, I can, with a couple of clicks, share a post about it to my Facebook account. Usually, five minutes after I've shared one song, another song that I like even better will pop up. Do I post about that one too, or will my friends get annoyed at me?
When certain permissions are set, every song you listen to can be looked up on your Facebook profile. This is an optional service, of course, and the social-sharing aspect of it can be turned off (or not turned on to begin with) by those who don't feel like sharing their music choices.
When I finish a book on my Kindle, I can easily, with just a couple of clicks, post a message to Facebook saying that I've done so. The message includes a link to the Kindle page in case any of my friends might like to buy the book for themselves. For that matter, I can highlight a paragraph or two while I'm reading the book and share that clipping on Facebook.
I enjoy recommending things, as I suspect many people do, although whether any of my friends are inclined to take my suggestions is certainly in doubt.
Anyway, one exception to this rule is video-on-demand services like Netflix Instant Streaming. There's no way to easily or automatically post from Netflix to Facebook about a great movie or TV episode you've just watched.
It's not that Netflix doesn't want to include such a feature -- they do, and they certainly have the technical savvy required. The problem ... is that it would be against the law.
According to a story by Dawn C. Chmielewski in the Los Angeles Times, the law dates back to the 1988 confirmation hearings for Robert Bork, whom Ronald Reagan had nominated for the Supreme Court. (The Senate ultimately rejected Bork's nomination.) A reporter for the Washington City Paper got a video rental store to reveal what movies Bork had checked out. The reporter, who had been annoyed at a legal opinion in which Bork opined that privacy was not guaranteed by the Constitution, was trying to prove a point by deliberately invading Bork's privacy.
While none of Bork's choices were particularly scandalous or surprising, political figures were alarmed at the idea that video rental lists could be made public, and Congress passed a law prohibiting any video rental business -- which, at the time, meant a corner store renting VHS tapes -- from releasing your rental history without your express written permission.
That was long before the Internet was widely available to the public, much less before Netflix or Facebook became household words. Now, the law has been interpreted to mean that Netflix is a video rental business, and therefore it can't share your video choices with Facebook or anyone else, even at your direction, without a written legal document signed by you. Some services have attempted to get around the law -- Hulu, according to the website paidcontent.org, created a system a year ago that routes your desktop video viewing through Facebook, so that when you clicked the "share" button it would be Facebook, and not Hulu, allowing you to share what you were watching, presumably getting around the prohibition on Hulu as a rental service being involved.
Of course, there's never anything to stop you from manually going to Facebook and posting a message about a great movie (or book or song), and you can always include a relevant link. But you can't have the same sort of easy, one-or-two-click sharing from Netflix that you can have from Kindle, or Spotify, or a zillion other services.
There are proposals to tweak the law and make it easier for you to share your video choices with your Facebook friends (hopefully while still keeping them private when you want them to be). Netflix is lobbying in favor of a change.
"But given the rancorous climate on Capitol Hill as the presidential election nears, it seems unlikely that any bill could muster bipartisan support," wrote Chmielewski.
My Facebook friends may be breathing a sigh of relief that I'm not going to start sharing my Netflix choices any time soon.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.