Netflix started recommending LGBT-themed content BEFORE I realised I was bisexual
- TV producer Ellie House, 24, started being suggested shows with gay characters
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A BBC producer has questioned whether Netflix knew she was bisexual before she herself did.
Ellie House, 24, claims that the streaming platform began recommending LGBT shows to her months before she came out.
It recommended You Me Her, which deals with LGBT themes, and also other shows featuring lesbian or bisexual characters. She came out as bisexual in 2019 following a long-term relationship with a man.
Ellie told The Times: ‘It’s not like Netflix ‘turned’ me gay – that’s not how it works – but it felt like it knew something I was still figuring out.’
She was also aware that none of her friends of a similar age were getting recommended this content.
So puzzled, the producer has now investigated the phenomenon in a World Service radio documentary, Did Big Tech Know I was Gay Before I Did?
Ellie was recommended You Me Her by Netflix – a show about a married mother who realises she is bisexual
In it, she explains how she was initially recommended You Me Her, a comedy about a married US woman who doesn’t realise she is gay until she meets a bisexual woman.
Several months later, House was recommended Gypsy, which chronicles a married woman’s affair with a younger woman.
Netflix collects data on the shows you watch, the time of day you watch and how long for.
Ellie told the BBC that she downloaded the information that Netflix and other tech companies, such as Facebook and Instagram had on her.
She was entitled to do this under UK data privacy laws.
The streaming giant collects data on its users, including how long they watch for and when and what trailers they watch
She discovered that Facebook kept track of other websites she visited – such as a language site and a hotel site. It also had had the coordinates to my home address, in a folder titled ‘location’.
According to Greg, watching certain shows that are not specifically gay can still have the algorithm predict ‘your propensity to like queer content’.
She revealed that Instagram had a list of more than 300 different topics it thought I was interested in, which it used for personalised advertising.
Meanwhile, Netflix had recorded every trailer and programme she had ever watched.
It also told Ellie that what the user has watched and how is a better indication of their tastes than demographic data, like age or gender.
She said there was ‘no evidence’ any of the platforms had tagged anything to do with her gender.
Two months after she downloaded TikTok in March 2021, it started recommending her videos of ‘hot bi girls’. This was despite her using the app for work.
Spotify too suggested a playlist it described as ‘sapphic’ – a word to describe women who love women.
Interestingly, it was not only Netflix that seemed to have worked out House’s sexuality.
Greg Serapio-Garcia, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge specialising in computational social psychology, told the documentary while no one is explicitly telling Netflix that they’re gay, the platform ‘can look at users that have liked queer content.’
He explained that a user doesn’t have to have previously streamed content tagged LGBT to receive these suggestions and that the recommender systems go deeper than this.
So too if you watch continuously or skip to the credits.
Greg explained that while the habits don’t seem like anything on their own, taken together across millions of users, they can make highly specific predictions.
He added that this concerned many people in countries where it is still illegal to be gay.
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