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Does Netflix track your personal data?

We take a look at the information Netflix is collecting about you, and why.

Person looking at Netflix on a tablet
Last updated: 03 May 2024

Need to know

  • Netflix gathers information about you in several ways
  • For the most part, Netflix appears to be above board with its current privacy practices
  • Though the ad-supported tier is cheaper, you'll need to provide additional personal information to access it

Like most big tech companies, Netflix gathers and tracks information about you as you use its service. Getting to know your viewing habits helps improve your viewing experience by showing you more of what you like, but the data gathering goes further than that.

You provide some information yourself when you sign up, while other information is collected automatically in the background. And then there's some that Netflix collects from third parties.

But how does all this data gathering affect your privacy?

We looked at Netflix's privacy statement and approached the company with any questions it raised. Here's what we found.

Information you give to Netflix

The amount of information required depends on whether you sign up for an ad-free or ad-supported plan. Ad-free plans require data such as your name, payment method, contact information and phone number, while the ad-supported option also asks for your date of birth and gender.

If you choose to jump-start your recommendation algorithm, you can let Netflix know a number of titles you're interested in. You might also participate in surveys or engage with customer support staff, during which you offer additional information about yourself.

How does Netflix target advertisements?

If you sign up for an ad-supported plan, Netflix will use your date of birth, gender and general location information (based on your IP address) to tailor advertising for your demographic. It may also track your general online activity to across various unaffiliated third-party apps or websites to target more specific content.

This is called 'behavioural advertising' and you can opt out of it if you'd prefer. Click your profile icon in the top right corner then select Account from the drop-down menu. Next, go to Edit settings > Privacy and data settings and turn off Allow behavioural advertising.

How Netflix recommends titles

It's no secret that Netflix keeps tabs on what you watch so it can make recommendations based on your personal tastes. It also tracks when you watch certain types of content and for how long.

This information is used to decide which titles it includes in each row on a menu page. It also determines the order in which the titles are positioned (ranked from left to right), and the order in which the rows appear on the page (ranked from top to bottom).

But when you use the search function, the results are based on what other users looking for similar terms have selected, rather than your personal recommendation algorithm.

Netflix doesn't use socio-demographic data (such as age, race or gender) when making title recommendations.

How to search specific Netflix categories

Netflix's suggestions can be accurate, but also restrictive. Browsing for content outside of your algorithm can be time-consuming and frustrating if you use the user interface as intended.

If you'd prefer more direct control over the categories or genres you can peruse, jump on a web browser and use specific URLs to get your results. For example, will give you "Spy Action & Adventure". Replace the numbers at the end of that URL with 8711 for "Horror Movies" or 5349 for "Historical Documentaries" and so on.

To find these search options, do a web search for "secret Netflix URLs" to discover plenty of websites with huge lists of categories to choose from. It's not certain that any site has the complete set, and some links have been shut down over the years (such as the sorely missed 8742 "Cool Moustaches" category).

Hide your viewing history and change your algorithm

Other users of your account can access your profile and see your viewing history, unless you lock your profile using parental controls.

But you can hide this information. Open Netflix via a web browser and go to Account. In the Profile & Parental Controls section, expand your profile and click View next to "Viewing Activity".

To hide a title, click the Hide icon to the right of "Report a problem". You can also click Hide all at the bottom of the page to hide all your viewing activity.

After 24 hours of being hidden, a title will no longer be used to make recommendations to you, unless you play it again.

Other data Netflix collects

Netflix collects non-viewing data from your interactions with its service and from third parties. This data can include which devices you use, any devices on your local network, IP address, interactions with advertising, rough location at each login, and more.

You can request Netflix send you the information it has about you by visiting the Netflix Get My Info page. We did this for our ad-based and ad-free accounts and the amount of information is extensive, but didn't appear to contain anything alarming or unexpected. Each subscription matched the claims in the privacy policy.

It's worth noting that the information supplied from our ad-tier subscription didn't provide any information about advertising, at all. This, however, isn't promised in the privacy policy.

Socio-demographic data

The personal information we downloaded as part of our ad-free subscription had no socio-demographic details. This includes age, gender, nationality, occupation, education, relationship or family status, sexuality and political preferences. The ad-based account did add age and gender as outlined on the subscription page, but that was it.

The only data of this kind that Netflix appears to use is aggregate data for research purposes. This includes interviews and panels from people who consent to provide information, but Netflix claims this is separate from its service and doesn't include personal information associated with individual members.

Location tracking

Location information seems limited to an approximation based on your IP address each time you use Netflix. We saw no evidence of the precise GPS tracking used by other companies such as Google or Facebook, among others, via mobile devices like smartphones.

Netflix told us it doesn't ask for or receive home addresses in connection with its streaming service.

Information supplied by ad service providers

Netflix isn't in the business of hunting down its own advertisers. Instead, it uses ad service providers which are the middle man between a platform like Netflix and brands looking for places to advertise.

Ad service providers scrape information and data from every corner of the internet. For example, a public Instagram post may be used to hone demographic information linked to your IP address. Data like this may be supplied to Netflix to assist with targeted advertising.

Sharing your data

Given Netflix doesn't appear to collect much personal information, there isn't too much to share for ad-free subscription tiers. When it does, this sharing seems limited to necessary activities such as linking with your internet provider, voice-assistant platforms, security, law enforcement and providing customer service, among others.

Necessary information is shared with other services that Netflix uses to deliver content. For example, Netflix doesn't operate a bank so some information needs to be shared between it and your financial institution if you pay with a credit card.

Similarly, Netflix may partner with other brands for promotional reasons – e.g. get six months of Netflix free when you sign up to a two-year contract with a particular telco. In this instance, personal data will be shared between parties to activate the promotional content.

The Netflix privacy policy states that "you may have a relationship with one or more of our Partners, in which case we may share certain information with them in order to coordinate with them on providing the Netflix service to members and providing information about the availability of the Netflix service".

While Netflix's privacy statement can be vague, it doesn't specify some of the data gathering and sharing practices commonly used by big tech. These include things like precise location tracking, sharing personal details with third parties for the purpose of advertising, and collecting and using an individual's socio-demographic information to push content.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.