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What's with the name?

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The Boob Tube

Your Next Verizon Cable Box May Be Able To Watch And Listen To You In Your Own Home


If you thought mannequins watching you while you shop was a creepy thought, what about your DVR watching you on the couch? This is the future Verizon has in store for targeted marketing. 

Ars Technica writes Verizon has filed a patent titled, “Methods and Systems for Presenting an Advertisement Associated with an Ambient Action of a User.” And yes, it’s as creepy as it sounds.

The technology produces targeted advertisements based on what you’re doing at that particular moment. Upon hearing of this tech, my first thought was, “So, if you’re having sex, do you get a condom commercial?” The answer? Basically, yeah. Here are a few things the patent application lists as “ambient actions” the box would recognize:

  • eating, exercising, laughing, reading, sleeping, talking, singing, humming, cleaning, and playing a musical instrument.
  • an interaction between the user and another user.
  • interaction between the user and the another user comprises at least one of cuddling, fighting, participating in a game or sporting event, and talking.
  • interaction by the user with a separate mobile device.

It states the technology will utilize “gesture recognition technology, a profile recognition technology, a facial recognition technology, and a voice recognition technology.” A user profile will also play a role in the targeted ads but delving deeper, it also says it will select “advertisement based on the determined mood of the user.” So like, if you’re crying, you get a tissue commercial or maybe antidepressants? Weird. It will also take your physical attributes into account which, on top of everything else, will likely lead to a lot of problems (“Did my TV just call me fat?”)

“Verizon is far from the first company to think of this unassailably creepy use for a set-top box,” writes Ars Technica. “Comcast patented similar monitoring technology in 2008 for recommending content based on people it recognizes in the room; Google proposed yet another patent for Google TV that would use audio and video recorders to figure out how many people in a room are watching the current broadcast.”

I think it goes without saying that technology like this would have to be opted into by the consumer. There are already televisions out there that will turns itself off if you aren’t looking at it and that freaks me out enough. Is this something you’d be interested in or does it cross a line?

(via Death and Taxes, image via Impact Lab)

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  • Anonymous

    Reason #45782457 to drop your cable subscription.

  • Sanjay Merchant

    Granted, I have internet-only cable so this is less of an issue for me, but I just might be inclined to indulge in a bit of paranoia and keep a little piece of cardboard over the camera unless I’m using it.

  • Sandra Livery

    Are they really so oblivious that they don’t know how much people hate advertising? I don’t think I know one single person who would opt in for such a horrid invasion of privacy.

  • Zuul

    Would you be able to put a sticker over the cam?

  • Anonymous

    “In Russia, TV watches…”

    Oh, I just can’t DO it!!!

  • http://twitter.com/Selkiechick Selkiechick

    I think Verizon may be about to find out a very ugly truth- how many people watch tv in the underwear….(especially sports…) will they inundate them with clothing ads or fitness ads?

  • Anonymous

    I think that there are at least a few people who work on this stuff who sincerely believe that people want advertising that is [ahem] intimately tailored for them. I think the rest believe that enough people don’t care either way — they’re probably thinking that the amount of money they lose from people dropping subscriptions will be made up for by the amount of money they’ll get from companies that want to target their ads as individually as possible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/leslee.beldotti Leslee Bottomley Beldotti

    Oh, I’d be interested… in discovering all the ways in which I could break this device’s logic!

  • Anonymous

    I love how sci-fi authors thought everything big-brother-related would be initiated by governments or corporations to monitor people and control their lives, but is instead a tool for targeted advertisement, from the tracking cookies on your browser to this sexual-intercourse-and-other-”the-sims”-actions-recognition-device. Still, this news freaked me out.

  • Anonymous

    That was my first thought, but what about the audio?

  • http://twitter.com/rockinlibrarian Amy W

    My first thought was “Oh, that letter I wrote to hypothetical George Orwell for an assignment in 10th grade– I feel so bad that my reassurances to him that our TVs can’t watch us back here in the future have turned out untrue. I wasn’t lying, George. I don’t know what happened.”

  • Anonymous

    As Jill said in the article, this “feature” should be acknowledged by the consumer so there would be not point in hacking the sensors if you ask for this privacy invasion. I guess opting out clients would get another box without all the spying devices… OR WOULD THEY ?!

  • http://twitter.com/ChannelDiza Chanel Diaz

    Yeah, because people love Peepings Toms so much, how convenient is it for us to just go right ahead and install them in our homes?

    And then those Peeping Toms tell all of our most privatest of secrets to our closest family and friends, because people don’t KEEP SECRETS.

    “I’m sensing a Lawsuit in the Future.” That, and a lot of Family Disunity over a lot of Ugly/Closeted Truths.

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    Yeah, but you’re not really the customer, you’re the product. You pay for the cable, sure, but the commercial companies pay the networks. The networks use TV shows as bait so you can watch ads. Without the ads, the existing cable TV model collapses.

  • Anonymous

    They will make this opt out unless the government forces them to make it an opt-in. Why on earth would they do it the other way around, from a business point of view, unless there is some violent customer backlash?

  • http://www.facebook.com/suecrandall60 Sue Crandall

    You said it. I just heard about this today; learned abou the concept from Lester Del Ray, Arthur C Clarke, Issac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. God help us.