Moviepass responds to privacy controversy with app update

Heather Parry

By Heather Parry

08 March 2018

This week, website MediaPlayNews reported that Moviepass CEO Mitch Lowe allegedly told business forum atendees that the movie subscription service collects data about the movements and location of its users, not just when they’re at the theatre but also before and after they arrive.

According to MediaPlayNews, the company, which expects to have 5 million paying customers by the end of the year, and which offers subscribers access to one screening per day, is in the business of collecting user information about the whole moviegoing experience.

We get an enormous amount of information. Since we mail you the card, we know your home address, of course, we know the makeup of that household, the kids, the age groups, the income. It’s all based on where you live. It’s not that we ask that. You can extrapolate that. Then because you are being tracked in your GPS by the phone, our patent basically turns on and off our payment system by hooking that card to the device ID on your phone, so we watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards, and so we know the movies you watch. We know all about you. We don’t sell that data. What we do is we use that data to market film.

Whether or not the company uses this for any purpose other than marketing film, this highly unnecessary and unethical gathering of user data seems to be contrary to what users increasingly expect from their app services.

In addition, the app apparently did not tell users that they were collecting this information. As TechCrunch reports, in reference to the company tracking user movements outside of the movie theatre:

It sure isn’t in the company’s privacy policy, which in relation to location tracking discloses only a “single request” when selecting a theater, which will “only be used as a means to develop, improve, and personalize the service.” Which part of development requires them to track you before and after you see the movie?

When tech website Engadget also picked up on the story, a spokesperson got in touch, claiming that the comments above had been taken out of context:

At MoviePass our vision is to build a complete night out at the movies. We are exploring utilizing location-based marketing as a way to help enhance the overall experience by creating more opportunities for our subscribers to enjoy all the various elements of a good movie night. We will not be selling the data that we gather. Rather, we will use it to better inform how to market potential customer benefits including discounts on transportation, coupons for nearby restaurants, and other similar opportunities. Our larger goal is to deliver a complete moviegoing experience at a price anyone can afford and everyone can enjoy.

In addition, the app pushed a new update, which, according to the notes, contains “Theater & Movie Search performance improvements. Removed unused app location capability.” Moviepass also released another statement to Engadget:

Today, MoviePass released a new app update, including the removal of some unused app location capabilities. While part of our vision includes using location-based marketing to enhance the movie-going experience for our members, we aren’t using some of that functionality today. Our members will always have the option to choose the location-based services that are right for them today and in the future.

While this isn’t an outright denial of the claims made by the CEO, or a definite confirmation that the location-tracking has been removed, the company does seem to have been forced into a corner—and does seem to be acknowledging that tracking user data in this way without express permission to do so is contrary to what users expect.

But this situation does ask the question of why companies continue to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable when it comes to user privacy. Without the likes of TechCrunch and Engadget doing the work that they do, how many more apps would get away with behaviour like this?

And if you’re a Moviepass user, does this update leave you feeling confident using the Moviepass app? Feel free to let us know on our social media pages.

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