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Three Ways Your Pay TV Provider Will Intrude on Your Privacy
The Eyes Have It

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In December of last year, it was revealed that Verizon filed a patent for a TV set top box complete with infrared camera and microphone to determine what a person is doing in their home at a given moment -- the better to serve up "appropriate ads." As Steve Donohue described it, "[i]f the detection system determines that a couple is arguing, a service provider would be able to send an ad for marriage counseling to a TV or mobile device in the room."

Others had a more succinct description: "creepy."

However you feel about Verizon's ham-fisted attempt, they're not the only video provider straining to learn more about you. Microsoft, for instance, just announced it would let politicians harness its Xbox Live platform to beam "targetted" ads at you.

We're used to hearing about threats to our privacy from social networks and apps, which profit from harvesting our personal data and selling it to the highest bidder, but across the entire TV industry there is a move afoot to get in on the game as well.

What's more, they're doing so with little appreciation for the fine line they are walking. On several occasions when I raised the question with executives at last year's National Association of Broadcasters show, I got, at best, a quizzical look or a shoulder shrug. It was clear that few people were thinking through the possible ramifications of collecting this kind of consumer data, the potential for misuse or even a regulatory backlash.

One executive at a major networking firm, who will remain nameless, indicated that the "politically correct" answer to these concerns is to insist that any consumer data is technically supposed to be tied only to an IP address (not a real person). Any data harvested by your TV provider will treated mostly in aggregate and anonymously. The real answer, he said with somewhat rueful grin, was that "we have no privacy."

So, with that in mind, here are three ways in which your TV provider will be peering in on your life.


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