Image: Darron Cummings (AP)

Under late capitalism, date night is now data night. Mitch Lowe, the CEO of Moviepass, told an audience last week that the app tracks user location, both before and after the movie. In his imaginatively titled keynote speech at the Entertainment Finance Forum, “Data is the New Oil: How will MoviePass Monetize It?” Lowe boasted about the “enormous” amount of data the “Netflix for movie theaters” app has on customers.

“We get an enormous amount of information,” Media Play News first reported Lowe as saying. “We watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards.”

Two question here: So does Moviepass actually track users’ locations before and after they go see movies? If so, why?

Techcrunch reviewed the app’s privacy policy, noting that Moviepass only mentions making a “single request” for location data, requiring it when users select a movie theater. There’s nothing about ongoing tracking, either in the background or when users’ phones are off. As described in its privacy policy, the location data is only used to “develop, improve and personalize the service.”

MediaPlayNews summarized Lowe’s additional comments as “MoviePass would direct subscribers to places to have dinner before or after a screening, for instance, getting a cut from vendors.” This seems in line with another remark by Lowe’s that Moviepass ultimately wants to “build a night at the movies.”

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We reached out to Moviepass for more details, but, from the scant information provided, it seems like the company wants data on the accompanying businesses people visit during a night out to the movies. Presumably, the app knows what time you’re going to see the movie and how long it is. Perhaps it could check locations around that time.

Let’s say you visit a restaurant, an ice cream place, then see a film for the fourth time, before drinks. Moviepass could record that data, then make Groupon-style deals with these businesses as a source of revenue. Four tickets to see “Coco” or “Paddington 2?” Moviepass could recommend a package deal with a nearby family restaurant. Tickets for two for “Mission Impossible” or “Fifty Shades?” Moviepass might suggest something for couples.

During an interview with Gizmodo in August, Lowe spoke on how Moviepass planned on using user data. Without offering specifics, Lowe said he wanted to connect trips to see movies with “other transactions.”

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“The second thing we’re going to do with data... is we think going to the movies is a centerpiece for a lot of other transactions,” he said at the time. “Y’know, going to dinner, getting drinks, taking Uber, and we’re going to be working with local merchants around the theaters, and around the malls to drive more people to those businesses. And take a share to drive transactions.”

We reached out to Moviepass for clarification on what data it collects from users and will update if we hear back.

[MediaPlayNews via Techcrunch]

Update 12:35am ET: According to a report in the Verge, MoviePass now is clarifying that it has no plans to sell user location data to third parties, but is instead only “exploring” how said data could “enhance the overall experience by creating more opportunities” for customers to “enjoy all the various elements of a good movie night.”

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However, MoviePass also said its intent is understanding “how to market potential customer benefits including discounts on transportation, coupons for nearby restaurants, and other similar opportunities,” which doesn’t rule out the company building business partnerships involving location data.

Update: 3/8/2018 2PM ET: Engadget reports that the latest MoviePass update, released Wednesday, removes the controversial location-tracking functionality. In a statement to Engadget, MoviePass says the tracking services were “unused,” but may return at a later date. The statement is below: 

Today, MoviePass released a new app update, including the removal of some unused app location capabilities. While part of our vision includes using location-based marketing to enhance the movie-going experience for our members, we aren’t using some of that functionality today. Our members will always have the option to choose the location-based services that are right for them today and in the future.

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