Five questions answered on Netflix's Facebook "violation"

Digested.

Netflix Inc’s chief executive Reed Hastings is in trouble with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) because of something he posted on Facebook. We answer five questions on his controversial post.

What did Hastings say?

On 3 July Hastings announced on a public Netflicks Facebook page accessible to 244,000 subscribers that one billion hours of video was being viewed a month by members of the video streaming website. 

He said exactly: "Netflix monthly viewing exceeded 1 billion hours for the first time ever in June."

So, what’s the problem with this post exactly?

The way the information was disclosed is the problem. The SEC believes that this particular figure is material information and therefore should have been disclosed in a press release or regulatory filing.

SEC's Regulation FD, adopted in 2000, requires public companies to make full and fair public disclosure of material non-public information.

What kind of action is the SEC taking?

The "Wells notice," as it is known as, that was received by Netflicks and filed by the company as regulations dictate, states that the SEC is planning on bringing civil action against the company because of the post made by Hastings.

The SEC staff will recommend the full commission pursue either a cease-and-desist action and/ or civil injunction against Netflix and Hastings.

What has Hasting said about his contentious Facebook posting?

According to The Telegraph, Hasting said yesterday that his posting was public enough: "First, we think posting to over 200,000 people is very public, especially because many of my subscribers are reporters and bloggers," 

In a letter posted alongside the regulatory filing he added "We remain optimistic this can be cleared up quickly through the SEC's review process." 

What are other people saying?

Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter told Reuters: "It's totally disingenuous to say that his statement wasn't material when the stock went from under $70 a share to more than $80 and the only data point was that post."

While, Joseph Grundfest, former SEC commissioner and Stanford Law School professor also told Reuters: "The evolution of social media presents the SEC with some very interesting regulatory challenges. But if they're worried about social media, there are ways for them to address that without threatening to sue Reed Hastings. They should have a rulemaking where they can ventilate these issues. "

Netflix is in trouble. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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