Is ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’ Snatching Your Data? We Asked Its Creators

“Have you been targeted with any cereal advertisements?” joked executive producer Annabel Jones

Last Updated: January 9, 2019 @ 6:08 PM

Netflix famously tracks viewers’ preferences to provide recommendations about shows we might like. With “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch,” it has access to dozens of viewer decisions, because the film invites us to push buttons to make big and small decisions about the plot.

Netflix could use this viewer data to track, for example, whether you prefer Frosties or Sugar Puffs, the cereals we’re presented with early in the film. That’s an innocuous decision, but Netflix could use similar “choose your own adventure” programs in the future to learn more about viewers’ likes and dislikes. They could use it to build shows you like, or market to you more directly.

Does that sound a little “Black Mirror”? Consider also that “Bandersnatch” is aimed at adults — but all of Netflix’s other “interactive” shows are aimed at children.

Netflix hasn’t replied to our question about what, if anything, it’s doing with the treasure trove of data it could mine from “Bandersnatch.” So we asked “Black Mirror” creator Charlie Brooker and his fellow executive producer, Annabel Jones, if they know.

TheWrap: Because this is so new for them, and you, and their first foray into interactive, at least adult, programming, I’m wondering is Netflix storing or tracking or analyzing the data from user decisions to help make new programming in the future or use it for something else? Because it could be useful user data, but then also that’s very “Black Mirror” to wonder about the implications of using that data for something else.

Charlie Brooker: I’m sure they will know who has chosen what and it will be interesting to see who chooses what and why they choose it. Well, we don’t know why they choose it — I don’t think they can see into anyone’s soul.

Annabel Jones: Have you been targeted with any cereal advertisements?

TheWrap: No (laughs).

Jones: OK, so I think we’re safe so far. (laughs).

Brooker: Yeah, I don’t think they have Sugar Puffs in the U.S.

Jones: Oh, I’m so sorry. I hope you didn’t choose Sugar Puffs.

Brooker: I mean, I think it would only really be of use to people coming up with more interactive stories. Because this is all quite experimental, as you say, in terms of, you know, obviously interactive films have been around for a while, but on the Netflix platform this is fairly new.

I can’t imagine at the moment there would be much information that would be much more useful than helping you sort of bear it in mind the next time you’re writing an interactive story. Because people are approaching this for different reasons, aren’t they? Some people are trying to beat the game. Some people are just trying to see every scene they can. Some people are putting their remote down and not bothering to make any decisions. So how could you tell the difference between somebody who is purposefully not interacting and someone who just happens to be choosing the equivalent of not interacting each time? I don’t know how good it would be at psychologically profiling someone.

Jones: And given it’s quite a unique film, I don’t quite know how they would use the information anyway, really. But I do think it’s interesting, and we’re intrigued to know how long people have watched for, because as you say, it’s a groundbreaking new thing for Netflix and it’s new for this interactive storytelling to be on such a mainstream platform. And there are no barriers to entry with Netflix.

You’re going to have people who have never played a video game before and never engaged with anything interactive and who are only used to being passive and enjoying films and TV, now being exposed to this extra element. So that is fascinating. And then just like any broadcaster and any network you want to know if people have enjoyed whatever you’ve put on. Whatever the program is.

We talk about whether “Bandersnatch” is more like a fun “Goosebumps” book or a clever way for corporations to violate your privacy in the new “Low Key” podcast, which you can check out here: