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Balancing User Privacy and Advanced Personalization in OTT Streaming Services

Nazlı Şahin

Manager, Infrastructure Security

March 28, 2024


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In the rapidly evolving digital entertainment landscape, personalization is not just a feature; it's an expectation. 

Working with some of the world's leading OTT streaming applications, we're constantly exploring ways to tailor the viewing experience to individual tastes. With the expansion of high-quality content spanning genres, niche interests, and cultural variances, today’s consumers have an unprecedented wealth of choices. However, amidst this abundance, the challenge of content discoverability emerges as a quest that can often feel daunting.

Understanding OTT users’  attitudes toward data collection

Imagine entering a world where your preferences are anticipated – from the locations you are interested in visiting to the movies you love. Sounds ideal, right? This is the promise of personalization. However, this seemingly utopian vision hinges on a critical factor: data collection. This is based on the principle that the more the service knows about you, the better it can serve you. 

A recent research study conducted by Accedo sheds some interesting light on how users perceive the collection of data by video streaming services. The majority of global respondents (69%) expressed a willingness to share their personal information, provided it enhances their user experience with relevant UX iterations and solid content recommendations. However, there are some regional variations worth noting, such as users in South America (84%) showing a higher willingness to share personal data compared to respondents in, for example, Australia and New Zealand (ANZ), where the number was only 58%. 

Regardless of some variances between different locations and demographics, the research indicates that many users have grown to expect a personalized user experience and that there will likely be a data-collection element in place in order for video services to get there.

Embracing the new frontier: Gen AI for personalized OTT experiences

Generative AI has emerged as a game-changer in content personalization, offering OTT services unprecedented capabilities to tailor content recommendations, create engaging user interfaces, and even generate personalized content. By analyzing viewing habits, preferences, and interactions, Generative AI can curate a highly personalized viewing experience that keeps subscribers engaged and satisfied.

According to our research study, 57% of global respondents express some concern about AI technology being used by OTT services. Of this group, 22% said that their worry is mainly coming from the fact that they are not entirely sure how AI-powered data-collection and recommendation engines work - indicating that video streaming service providers may need to do more to inform their users about the methods behind data-driven optimizations. 

The detailed user data required to fuel these AI models could potentially expose sensitive information if not handled with the utmost care. Therefore, streaming services must employ state-of-the-art data anonymization techniques, ensuring that the data-feeding AI algorithms are stripped of personally identifiable information (PII). Furthermore,  the companies must implement strict data governance policies to align Generative AI's capabilities with these regulations. This includes obtaining explicit user consent for data collection and usage, providing clear opt-out options, and ensuring that users fully know how their data contributes to personalizing their viewing experience.

Balancing OTT personalization and privacy

Crafting a personalized experience that respects user privacy isn't just a feature—it's a necessity in streaming services. Integrating privacy from the get-go ensures it's woven into the fabric of user experience rather than being tacked on as an afterthought. This approach demands sophisticated techniques such as advanced encryption and data anonymization, ensuring personal data used for tailoring content remains untraceable to individuals.

The key to this balance is handing back the reins of data control to the users. Users can tailor their data sharing to suit their comfort levels by providing straightforward tools for managing privacy settings and consent. This empowerment extends to choosing how personalized their recommendations are, modifying data collection preferences, and even reviewing or deleting their stored data. Such control builds a user's trust in the platform and can deepen their loyalty and engagement.

Transparency is the cornerstone of this trust. Clear, open communication about the why and how of data usage demystifies data collection and highlights the value it brings to the user experience. Explaining the mechanisms behind AI-driven recommendations and the steps to secure data reinforces the message that user privacy is a top priority.

Navigating the complexities of user privacy and content personalization requires a comprehensive strategy that transcends technological solutions. It's about creating a culture of transparency and user empowerment. As streaming services evolve, those who prioritize this delicate balance will not only innovate but also build enduring relationships with their audience.

AI-powered personalization is here to stay.

Collaboration between platforms, regulators, and users is key in this journey towards harmonizing personalization and privacy. OTT platforms must proactively engage users to solicit feedback, address concerns, and iterate on privacy features. Regulatory frameworks play a crucial role in establishing baseline data protection and privacy standards, providing a framework within which platforms can operate responsibly.

Ultimately, the vision for the future of OTT streaming services hinges on finding a balance between effective personalization and privacy. By embracing transparency, user empowerment, and collaborative efforts, streaming platforms can forge a path toward a future where personalized experiences and privacy rights are not mutually exclusive but rather mutually reinforcing. In this symbiotic relationship, users can enjoy the benefits of tailored content discovery while maintaining control over their data, enriching the digital entertainment experience for all stakeholders.

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