Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Television That Watches You?

Ever since the first Tivo's and other DVR's (Digital Video Recorders) came out there has been much speculation about the extent to which the broadcasting companies collect data on our television viewing habits. The speculation has ranged from paranoid conspiracy theorists that contend that every channel click, rewind, and recorded program is remembered, tallied and stored in secret databases. On the other extreme are those proclaiming that virtually no information is retained. Sorry to disappoint the ones who want to believe in a nefarious plot, but the truth lies somewhere in between, and the amount of information collected depends heavily on your television service provider. Dish Network, for example, collects virtually nothing on your habits. If you watch a pay-per-view program, obviously that is noted for business purposes, but that is it.

Tivo, in contrast to Dishnetwork, keeps close tabs on the shows being watched and sends that information over the attached phone line. Many Tivo users first became aware of this during the Janet Jackson skin-bearing episode during Super Bowl 38 between New England and the Carolina Panthers. Tivo announced the great numbers of people that rewound the event, and their customers suddenly became aware of the capabilities of the company to see what they were doing. It turns out, however, that information about who watched the content is assiduously stripped from the information, and then is shuffled between a number of servers, so that your privacy is protected. In other words, attention is paid to the shows that are watched, and even information about rewinds by customers, but it is so anonymous that no one needs worry about the data gathered.

The large cable behemoths, such as Comcast and Time Warner, have huge information pipes stuck into the cable boxes, and apparently are able to snoop as much as they please, whenever they decide. This type of information is so crucial to advertisers, and while there is not much information changing hands now, the lure of advertising dollars may prove irresistible in the near future. In the modern world, and probably deep into our history, humans have always had an innate concern for privacy. Some people are more sensitive than others, and there are undoubtedly some segments of the population that would welcome a company gathering information on their television watching behaviors. (They are good candidates for the Neilson Ratings Company, based in Florida). As our society becomes more connected with cell phones, Wi-Fi, Satellite Communications, and a related array of electronic gadgets, we will revisit this topic as the ability to observe and be observed increases throughout the world. While some see privacy issues as an increasing threat, it is undeniable that our ability to get information to make informed decisions is also increasing. For more information, check out other new technology discoveries.

by: John Richardson


Post a Comment

<< Home