Cheryl K. Chumley reports for The Washington Times, June 17, 2013, the cable TV companies have acquired a new technology that enables them to peer directly into television watchers’ homes and monitor viewing habits and reactions to product advertisements.
The technology would come via infrared cameras and microphones embedded in digital video recorders (DVRs) or cable boxes, which will enable the cable companies to watch and analyze viewers’ reaction (what they do and say) to televised ads. The cable companies then use the data collected to target specific advertisements to the particular household.
Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) have introduced a bill, the We Are Watching You Act, to prohibit the technology on boxes and collection of information without consumer permission. The bill would also require companies that do use the data to show “we are watching you” messages on the screen and to explain just what kinds of information is being captured and for what reasons.
The two Congressmen explain in a press release that “A patent application filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office by Verizon notes the technology could detect a range of viewer activities. According to the patent application, the set-top device will be able to distinguish ‘ambient action … of eating, exercising, laughing, reading, sleeping, talking, humming, cleaning’ and more.”
Congressman Capuano stated: “This may sound preposterous but it is neither a joke nor an exaggeration. These DVRs would essentially observe consumers as they watch television as a way to super-target ads. It is an incredible invasion of privacy. Given what we have recently learned about the access that the government has to the phone numbers we call, the emails we send and the websites we visit, it is important for consumers to decide for themselves whether they want this technology. Think about what you do in the privacy of your own home and then think about how you would feel sharing that information with your cable company, their advertisers and your government.”
For his part, Congressman Jones stated: “Allowing this type of technology to be installed in the homes of individuals without their consent would be an egregious invasion of privacy. When the government has an unfortunate history of secretly collecting private citizens’ information from technology providers, we must ensure that safeguards are in place to protect Americans’ rights.”
Current law is silent on these devices. The We Are Watching You Act will require both an opt-in for consumers and an on-screen warning whenever the device is recording information about consumers.
Dr. Eowyn is the Editor of Fellowship of the Minds and a regular contributor to The D.C. Clothesline.