[Update: Test Over] Netflix tests tracking your physical activity to improve video quality while on-the-go
The next major version update that Google will release later this year, Android Q, brings a number of changes and additional features to the platform. We’ve been talking about this update since before Google even began its Android Beta program earlier this year. In January, we found evidence to support that Android Q just might bring a decoupled app permission which lets it see the device’s activity data (your physical activity in some cases). Recently, a security researcher noticed that the Netflix application was accessing this data and now we know why.
— Beto on Shrooms on Security, Shitter of Posts (@BetoOnSecurity) July 27, 2019
When this information was initially discovered it confused a lot of people. Netflix is a media streaming service and it just didn’t make sense for it to care about the device’s physical activity. It makes sense for a health and fitness application, but not Netflix. Some speculated that it was implemented by accident since Android Q is still in development but thenextweb discovered the tweet and reached out to the company to see if they could get a response. You’ll find the full quote below, but it’s simply a new feature that the developers are currently testing.
We are continually testing ways to give our members a better experience. This was part of a test to see how we can improve video playback quality when a member is on the go. Only some accounts are in the test, and we don’t currently have plans to roll it out.
Remember, this application permission isn’t new at all. When we first reported on this back in January we reminded you that it has been bundled in with Google Play Service for years. So apps have had access to this data for a long time now. The main change here is that Google is decoupling it with the launch of Android Q and giving the users a way to block access to the data. Sadly, Netflix doesn’t go into any additional details as to how they’re using this data to improve video playback quality.
Some speculate that Netflix could leverage this data so its app can tweak the buffer parameters, switching to a different video codec, or being faster to change qualities in an attempt to improve the overall user experience.
Update: Test Over
Netflix confirmed to The Verge that their physical activity tracking test is over. Unfortunately, they did not say if they will be removing the data they collected. They did say they have no plans to roll out the test to more users. This was an odd test for a media company and we’ll probably never see it again.