Netflix Denies Arranging ‘Love, Death and Robots’ Episode Order Based on Users’ Sexual Identity

“The version you’re shown has nothing to do with gender, ethnicity, or sexual identity — info we don’t even have in the first place,” streaming service tweets

Last Updated: March 20, 2019 @ 8:52 PM

Netflix is denying an accusation that the order in which viewers are presented with “Love, Death and Robots” — its new Tim Miller and David Fincher-created adult animated anthology series — episodes has anything to do with a user’s own sexual identity.

“We’ve never had a show like ‘Love, Death & Robots’ before so we’re trying something completely new: presenting four different episode orders,” Netflix said in a tweet Tuesday, following the 18-episode show’s March 15 launch. “The version you’re shown has nothing to do with gender, ethnicity, or sexual identity — info we don’t even have in the first place.”

That tweet was in direct response to a thread started by Out in Tech co-founder Lukas Thoms on Monday, in which he wrote: “Just discovered the most INSANE thing. The ORDER OF THE EPISODES for Netflix’s new series ‘Love Death & Robots’ changes based on whether Netflix thinks you’re gay or straight.”

Thoms included screengrabs of the order that his 18 episodes came in versus that of a heterosexual friend, noting: “On the left is my account, starting with the one with a lesbian storyline, and the right is my straight friend Andrew’s account, starting with the one that has the most realistic and explicit hetero sex.”

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“We’ve known for a while that Netflix personalized the marketing of their shows based on sexual orientation (trailers, cover images etc) but it’s next level weird to change the actual experience of watching it,” Thoms added. “Thought I was losing my mind trying to talk to Andrew about the show.”

Netflix declined TheWrap’s request for additional comment when asked if the four different episode-order versions are assigned at random or by using other user data.

Thoms updated his own thread Tuesday with a tweet that said, “a friend I trust at Netflix looked into this, and apparently the episode ordering is just a 100% random A/B test that doesn’t involve any ML. Identity-based recommendations are still a good discussion to have, in this case it was just random!”

“This makes sense to me as episode ordering is completely new, and there’s nothing keeping them from using the data gathered here for future identity targeting,” he continued. “I hear Netflix thinks and cares a lot about ethical algorithms, but every company needs to be more transparent here.”

Netflix has previously been accused of using demographic data — not just viewing history — to personalize customers’ experiences.

In October, the streaming service denied that race played a part in which thumbnails users see for different shows and movies, after the issue was raised by a podcaster on Twitter.

“Reports that we look at demographics when personalizing artwork are untrue. We don’t ask members for their race, gender or ethnicity so we cannot use this information to personalize their individual Netflix experience,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement obtained by TheWrap at the time. “The only information we use is a member’s viewing history.”

“In terms of thumbnails, these do differ and regularly change. This is to ensure that the images we show people are useful in deciding which shows to watch,” the statement said.