By being the first interactive movie in history, ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’ (hereinafter ‘Bandersnatch’) has laid the foundations for a new era in the film industry. The film is premised on an architecture wired to the viewer’s contribution. Ranging from the music which the main actor listens to while on road to the existential question of who will commit suicide, Bandersnatch transforms users from passive viewers to a sort of ‘humans-in-the-plot’.
Its significance, though, goes well beyond its innovative design. Netflix was a data-company well before it launched its streaming platform and over the years it has developed very effective recommendations algorithms based on what its users prefer to watch. To that extent, Bandersnatch-like films can become the next mine of personal data. By tracking the portrayal of users’ choices in a variety of dilemmatic questions, Netflix will be given the chance to generate high-quality and robust data able to unravel the character profiles of its viewers in an elusive yet efficient way. And if film industry finds the question ‘What cereals to choose” profitable, imagine the value it could derive from the question ‘What to do: Cry or Kill father’.
Although Netflix has declined to answer questions with regards to the exploitation of users’ choices during the streaming of the ‘Bandersnatch’, Black Mirror’s creators shared a different and less dystopian perspective in an interview earlier this year . Although it is indeed useful for marketing and content creation purposes to have access to the choices of the viewers (and obviously Netflix does have), it is by no means self-evident that these data can per sebe beneficial for the miner. In this experimental level, people may watch an interactive movie again and again just to check every possible progress and outcome. Or, they may let the movie automatically proceed on its own without clicking the interfering pop-up questions. In both of the above circumstances, the harvested data will be practically hollow.
Now, think of the time Facebook started gaining exponential momentum and try to recall its initial applications. Back in the period of Facebook’s fishy personal quizzes ‘Which Harry Potter character matches your personality’ little did we know that our answers would feed research institutes with the breadth of our incline to become radical. Similarly, and as the interactive movies will gradually begin to mushroom, becoming aware of the utility and thus the value of our choices during the flowering of the storyline is challenging.
Nevertheless, what is becoming more and more essential as we are embarking on the no-return journey to the onlifeworld is for us, the people and users of the onlife platforms, to understand that handing out access to our personal data will ethereally lead to the erosion of our very sense of freedom. At the end, we are what we accept.
The term onlife world is a philosophical schema introduced by Prof. Mireille Hildebrandt, author of the book ‘Smart Technologies and the End(s) of Law’