Hulu Relaunches Facebook Integration. Can a Free Month of Hulu Plus Offset Privacy Issues?

After a botched first attempt at social that caused some users to become logged into the wrong accounts, Hulu has relaunched its Facebook integration. It allows users to post timed comments and syndicate them to Facebook, and see what friends are watching and commenting on while browsing programs or a special Hulu news feed.

Hulu is betting the social content will lead to more usage, so it’s giving users a free month of Hulu Plus, normally $7.99, for signing in with Facebook. However, it will need to make privacy settings more accessible to provide both a better user experience, avoid spamming Facebook, and protect itself from backlash.

The initial Facebook integration that Hulu pushed on July 1st had to be disabled because an error caused users trying to merge their new Facebook Hulu account with their pre-existing Hulu account to become logged into the accounts of other users. Hulu claimed responsibility for the issue, absolving Facebook, and said that no sensitive user data was leaked. Still it error may have made some users weary of signing in with Facebook, making the incentive it also offered alongside the initial integration even more important.

Social Features, Privacy Issues

Now, Hulu has relaunched the Facebook integration. When users visit the home page, they’ll see a roadblock popup about “Hulu. Now With Friends.” Those who choose to login with Facebook Connect are emailed info about redeeming their one month of Hulu Plus. If users don’t already have a Hulu account, they can quickly set up the remaining details not available through Connect and select their privacy setting for who can see what they’ve watched.

However, if users have a pre-existing account and merge it with their new account, they’re not prompted to reset their privacy setting. This could raise privacy concerns because selecting to share what one watches with friends meant something very different when that only included your specific Hulu friends, of which users probably had few, compared to now when that info could be exposed to hundreds of Facebook friends.

Once set up, users will see content from Facebook friends on their home page’s friend activity feed. This shows what friends are watching and commenting on, and allows them to add their own replies to these activity stories. Hulu could have gone a step further and converted a user’s Facebook Likes into favorites, which would feed more data into its recommendation engine and relieve users from having the select favorites manually.

While watching shows, users can see which of their friends have watched that show too. Similar to Soundcloud, users can leave timed comments about specific moments of a show, so a user’s friends can tell what they were referencing.

By default, all comments and a video clip of the scene they’re left on, as well as ratings, reviews, favorites, and forum posts are published to Facebook. Users can’t opt out of syndicating to Facebook on a post-by-post basis, and instead must opt out through their Hulu privacy settings.

This opt out system may lead to more posts to Facebook and therefore more referral traffic it also creates an aggravating user experience where one can’t easily switch between publishing to Facebook or just to Hulu while watching. If someone wants to post multiple comments about a single scene and Facebook publishing is enabled, they’ll have to redundantly publish multiples video of the same scene to Facebook, which their friends might see as overkill.

Facebook believes TV watching is an inherently social experience that can be made better with friends, since it extended its Instant Personalization to online TV listings guide Clicker in December. Hulu’s Facebook integration provides a lot of value to users, even more so because of the Hulu Plus incentive. Still, TV watching can at times be a private experience, so more transparency and flexibility in its privacy settings might reassure users that they are in control and won’t spam friends.

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