Netflix has been accused of “racist” marketing practices after viewers complained that personalized ad posters were “targeting black users.”
The streaming service shows custom posters for TV shows and movies based on your tastes – but frustrated users say this has become “creepy” and misleading.
Netflix has been accused of targeting its covers to users based on race. (Netflix)
Netflix shows different posters to different users to entice them to watch, and uses your habits to decide which poster to show.
But some black Netflix customers have complained that these posters are targeting them by ethnicity, as reported by The Guardian.
One Twitter user named @slb79 wrote: “Other Black @netflix@ users: does your queue do this? Generate posters with the Black cast members on them to try to compel you to watch?
“This film stars Kristen Bell/Kelsey Grammer and these actors had maaaaybe a 10 cumulative minutes of screen time. 20 lines between them, tops,” she said, describing a poster for the film “Like Father.”
Netflix denies that it users are seeing minorities on thumbnail images by design. (Netflix)
Another user named @MikeInBmore responded: “THAT’S RACIST! I rarely watch ‘Black’ titles on Netflix in comparison to the rest of the content I actually view.
“But I DO feel to unnecessarily targeted to watch what their algorithm thinks I should be watching.
“That may be why I purposely don’t watch Black flicks on [Netflix].”
Users noted the example of “Love Actually,” a popular Christmas film starring Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson and Colin Firth.
For some users, the movie poster appeared to suggest the film was mainly about a romance between Chiwetel Ejiofor (who plays a more minor role) and Keira Knightley.
One Twitter user called @UnironicFlannel wrote: “I hear you 100% I also think this is closer to the intersection of regular creepy marketing and dark patterns/social engineering than most targeting efforts.
“[Especially] in the first case where it’s a bait and switch designed to generate royalties for a Netflix title.”
And @jeffwetherell complained: “It’s not marketing. Marketing would be pushing you movie posters of actual movies with black leads. This is creepy.
“It doesn’t help their bottom line. You watch the first 5 minutes then realize it’s not what it claims.”
In a statement given to The Sun, a Netflix spokesperson said: “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.
“We are always trying to learn from our members and looking for ways to improve how we personalize the service over time.”
But Netflix has admitted in the past that it uses personalized recommendations for users.
“The artwork may highlight an actor that you recognize, capture an exciting moment like a car chase, or contain a dramatic scene that conveys the essence of a movie or TV show,” explained Netflix’s Ashok Chandrashekar.
“If we present that perfect image on your homepage (and as they say: an image is worth a thousand words), then maybe, just maybe, you will give it a try.”
For instance, Netflix says that if you’ve watched lots of romantic movies, you may be interested in “Good Will Hunting” if the artwork contains Matt Damon and Minnie Driver.
But if you regularly tune into comedies, you might be more likely to watch the same movie if the artwork contains the late comedian Robin Williams.
Netflix will also track your apparent enjoyment of particular actors for the same purpose.
“A member who watches many movies featuring Uma Thurman would likely respond positively to the artwork for Pulp Fiction that contains Uma,” said Ashok.
“Meanwhile, a fan of John Travolta may be more interested in watching ‘Pulp Fiction’ if the artwork features John.”
This article originally appeared in The Sun.