Netflix Denies Racially Profiling Users

Netflix denied allegations of racially profiling users when creating custom images for content on its streaming platform after one writer discovered that her custom images highlighted black actors.

Back on Oct. 18, podcast host and writer Stacia L. Brown shared a photo of the icon she saw for the film Like Father, which stars Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer.

However, her icon showed black actors Leonard Ouzts and Blaire Brooks, who play minor roles in the movie.

"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," Brown wrote.

She also shared icons highlighting Chiwetel Ejiofor in Love, Actually, RJ Cyler in Sierra Burgess is a Loser and Isiah Whitlock Jr. in The Good Cop.

Netflix has said in the past that it does create custom icons for programs, but it is not based on race. Instead, the icons are supposed to be based on a user's activity, the company claims.

"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," a Netflix spokesperson told The Wrap on Monday. “The only information we use is a member’s viewing history.”

Netflix continued, “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."

In December 2017, Netflix explained the process for creating custom icons for users based on their activity.

"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," the company explained. "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. This is yet another way Netflix differs from traditional media offerings: we don’t have one product but over a 100 million different products with one for each of our members with personalized recommendations and personalized visuals."

For example, as the company explained, if you watch romantic movies, the icon for Good Will Hunting would show Matt Damon and Minnie Driver kissing. However, if you have a history of watching comedies, the art would show Robin Williams.

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In another example, if you watch many Uma Thurman movies, she will be featured on the Pulp Fiction art. But if you love spending your time with John Travolta, he will be featured in the Pulp Fiction icon.

Photo Credit: Netflix