MoviePass returns as crypto-fueled privacy nightmare India News, The Indian Express


Do you remember MoviePass† The failed “movie subscription service” nearly burned to the ground when it made a promise no company could keep: all the movies you could ever want to see for less than a ticket price. And now it’s back† This time with virtual currency and privacy nightmares.

MoviePass really was a deal that sounded too good to be true. For $10 a month you could see all the movies you wanted in any movie theater. Even if the theaters didn’t like it. MoviePass sent you a debit card and you would buy your ticket. You couldn’t share with a friend, but hey, just get two subscriptions! It couldn’t possibly last long and the company soon began to lose money. Then change the deal and drop theater support until it finally collapsed.

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Much of that happened after one of the original co-founders, Stacy Spikes, was fired. He’s since managed to buy back the rights to the company through the bankruptcy process, and now he’s (almost) ready to relaunch MoviePass. In a presentation of almost an hour (with multiple technical and human issues), he gave…well, a detail of the plan. But we have more questions and fears than certainty.

No word on pricing or launch date

So let’s get some of what we don’t know out of the way. Nowhere in the presentation did Spikes give us any indication of how much MoviePass 2.0 will cost. He also didn’t give an exact launch date, just a vague “summer” promise. He did suggest that the subscription service would have a tiered offering, but not what differed in those tiers.

However, I think we can assume that the “all you can watch for just $10 a month” offer won’t return. That eventually led to the company’s demise, and Spikes mocked that history for a while. But some of his comments did suggest the direction MoviePass will be looking in.

In a rather honest moment, Spikes admitted that even at its peak, MovePass subscribers weren’t hitting the numbers on big tentpole movies like Spider-Man with all their visits. It was the smaller movies, the kind you might see Oscar nominations but never watched yourself, that saw benefits. MoviePass subscribers used the service as an opportunity, according to Spikes, not so much to save money as to give movies they would otherwise have given a shot.

It sounds like MoviePass will use that data as the starting point for its new subscription service. It all sounded sensible until the details of the pseudo-crypto and privacy nightmare slipped out.

Is this cryptocurrency?

MoviePass

Let’s get one thing straight out of the gate: Spikes never uttered the words “crypto” or “cryptocurrency”. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that. MoviePass does not claim to be creating a crypto service. But I call this a “looks, waves and quacks like a duck” moment.

The MovePass looks like crypto due to several details. First, there is a vague promise that MoviePass is building an “End to End Cinematic Marketplace powered by Web3 technology”. If you are not familiar with the term Web3 then don’t worry as it is not well defined at the moment. As our sister site How-To Geek Explains, it is a proposed third evolution of the internet, powered by the blockchain and therefore decentralized. Kind of like the NFT marketplace.

But just because something is decentralized and powered by blockchain doesn’t mean it’s cryptocurrency. But the next part is telling. You see, instead of paying a certain amount each month and then getting “six movie tickets” or something like that, MoviePass 2.0 will rely on “virtual currency” instead. You have a digital wallet filled with virtual currency, and you spend it on movie tickets or concessions. Currency rolls on from month to month (though it wasn’t clear how much or for how long), and you can use it to take a friend to the movies.

You can even trade your MoviePass tokens if you want, but how exactly is not clear. MoviePass just stopped calling this MoviePassCoin, but you can see the resemblance. Movie theaters charge different prices for tickets and concessions depending on the time of day, as with most cryptocurrencies, the value will fluctuate. You can even earn more of the “virtual currency” through actions, which are similar to crypto’s “proof of work” scheme. Oh, but earning the currency is somewhat scary from a privacy standpoint.

Earning virtual money means giving up your face and location

MoviePass

Towards the end of the presentation, Spikes showed a little bit of the upcoming MoviePass app and hero feature called PreShow. PreShow allows you to earn virtual currency without having to buy more. While there are supposedly several ways to do this, one of the first methods is to watch ads. As you scroll through the movie options, you’ll see a PreShow feature. Click on that, watch an ad and you will see currency deposited into your virtual wallet.

Spikes hinted that the offers could go beyond video, suggesting during the demonstration that an ad for a self-driving taxi could offer even more virtual currency if you booked a ride to the theater. If this sounds familiar to you, you’re probably an eagle-eyed reader who remembers it Kickstarter from Stacy Spikes

That Kickstarter promised an upcoming app called PreShow that lets you see “free first movies” simply by watching ads on your phone. The updates and comments in the Kickstarter suggest that despite raising $56,721, the app never delivered as promised, and at some point moved on to a gaming solution instead of ads.

MoviePass

Now it looks like PreShow will be revived as part of MoviePass. Viewing ads isn’t really a privacy issue unless you measure how often they follow us. But in this case, you’re providing more data than usual. The last thing MoviePass or its ad partners want is for you to start an ad video, put your phone down and walk away. You would still get the virtual currency, but the ad creators are losing eyeballs.

The solution MoviePass uses is facial recognition. Your phone activates its cameras to make sure you pay close attention when you start the movie. Look away, and the ad pauses. What methods does MoviePass use to determine that you are looking at the phone? Does it store facial data on the phone or in the cloud? Does it send data to the cloud about your viewing habit? We don’t know because Spikes didn’t tell us.

But we can say with certainty that MoviePass knows where you are. This is necessary to offer movie ticket prices to the theater of your choice. And to help a robot taxi make an offer to pick you up wherever you are. The ad service needs to know that you live in an area that makes sense for the ad. After all, there is no point in promoting a taxi service that does not exist in your area.

So that leaves us with significant scary privacy implications: how secure is the MoviePass app? How much data does it have about you? How does it determine that you look at the phone? Which information is stored where? And will MoviePass sell all that data? If so, will it anonymize that data? At the moment we just don’t know.

Over time, we can get answers, and they can even satisfy and allay any privacy fears. But until that happens, it’s not a good place to have more questions than answers. We’ll let you know when MoviePass tells us more.

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