By David Z. Morris
March 10, 2018

MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe thinks his service’s rapid growth will continue, projecting earlier this month that MoviePass will have 5 million subscribers by the end of 2018, and account for around 20% of all movie ticket purchases. But some of those future subscribers might be concerned about his company’s tactics, which Lowe recently said includes tracking users’ location before and after a trip to the movies.

Lowe’s comments, originally reported by Media Play News, were made at the Entertainment Finance Forum on March 2 in Hollywood. They came during a panel titled “Data is the New Oil: How Will MoviePass Monetize It?”

Lowe’s answer to that question, in part, was that “our bigger vision is to build a night at the movies,” including by guiding users to a meal before or after seeing a film.

Lowe said that was possible because “we get an enormous amount of information. Since we mail you the card, we know your home address . . . we know the makeup of that household, the kids, the age groups, the income. It’s all based on where you live. It’s not that we ask that. You can extrapolate that.

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“Then,” Lowe continued, “Because you are being tracked in your GPS by the phone . . . we watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards, and so we know the movies you watch. We know all about you. We don’t sell that data. What we do is we use that data to market film.”

In a followup statement to the press, a MoviePass spokesperson said the company was “exploring utilizing location based marketing as a way to help enhance the overall experience,” including by using data “to better inform how to market potential customer benefits including discounts on transportation, coupons for nearby restaurants, and other similar opportunities.” Most importantly, the spokesperson reiterated Lowe’s claim that MoviePass won’t sell user data to third parties.

MoviePass has said from the beginning that data would be a major part of how it made its subscription service both affordable for users and profitable for the company. But Lowe’s disclosure of just how much data is involved triggered anxiety about the erosion of user privacy. TechCrunch argued that the kind of tracking Lowe discussed wasn’t allowed under the app’s privacy policy, while Engadget ushered Lowe into the “National Association of Data Mining App Psychopaths (not a real thing . . . we hope)”.

MoviePass has responded to the backlash by removing some data collection capabilities it isn’t currently using, and says “our members will always have the option to choose the location-based services that are right for them today and in the future.”

Showing some reticence about data gathering is smart in the short term. But for better or worse, there’s not much reason to believe users will be that upset about it in the long run, as long as it offers something useful in return. Just witness the billions of people still willing to share details of their personal lives with Facebook.

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