Thursday, October 8, 2009

Every breath you take, every click you make, I’ll be watching you.

Surely everyone who reads my silly articles is aware of the dangers of spyware on computers but for those that don’t know, spyware is software that relays personal information about you or your computer to outside sources. Those outside sources could be a criminal looking for your banking or credit card information, an advertising agency that wants to know your surfing habits or even a jealous spouse collecting data for their divorce lawyer. You’d be amazed at how many times we’ve helped jealous spouses get the goods on their mate in this little town.

Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy famously said, "You have no privacy. Get over it." That was in 1999 and we’ve gone far beyond that now. It seems that every day there is a new way for snoopers to get the goods on us. Privacy is an illusion even if you wear a tinfoil hat. As long as you remain “on the grid” and are part of this interactive digital age, others can discern a great deal about you.

I took a few moments to discover what else in my home is spying on my family. George Orwell foresaw a TV set that watches you many years ago. Last June, that became a reality for all of us. Most of us grew up with TV that only transmitted information to our TV set. Last June we all switched over to digital signals which allow for interactive, two-way TV. Now the TV stations know exactly who watches what – they have to because it’s interactive. But this interactivity has put all of us on the verge of a manifold increase in the level of detail that we allow others to see.

I recently read a study that exposed methods by which interactive television will observe and even experiment on viewers. It described how companies will create “psychographic profiles” of viewers and then “modify the behavior” of individuals based on that profile. This is all made possible by the promises of interactive TV and our wiliness to sacrifice a little privacy for convenience sake.

Among many other things, interactive TV will allow us to start watching a show in the living room, continue watching in the kitchen, and finish from the comfort of the den. All our favorite TV shows will be available whenever we want to watch them. We will be able to do all our shopping using our TV. However, these conveniences will allow broadcasters to actually sell their records of everything you do with your remote to advertisers. Changing channels, selecting certain programs, viewing habits, browsing through interactive sites, and our purchasing habits can be tracked. In fact, every click you make with your remote or mouse will be recorded somewhere. With this information, your TV will soon play commercials tailored directly to you based on your viewing and purchasing experience.

The disconcerting part of this is that it also means that your TV will know your religious preferences, education level, sexual preference, what political party you prefer and even if you have yellow teeth – all based on your viewing preferences and purchase history. The ramifications of that level of detail are mind bending, aren’t they?


hank said...

Is this not true for your computer use today. All this means is that your TV will have the same capability as your computer. We already have privacy issues

Jim Fisher said...

True. The line between TV and computer is becoming more and more blurred. While the "internet" knows a little about your surfing habits, for the most part, the "internet" doesn't know exactly who you are unless you divulge that information. With TV's advertisers have your name, address, telephone number and your viewing/purchasing habits and all the information those habits can tell them about you whether or not you want that information divulged. That is a bit of concern for the tinfoil wearers out there.

Due to space constraints, I had to cut out a couple of paragraphs about Microsoft's product called Mediaroom that is used with AT&T's Uverse in some areas. Microsoft is actually selling this product to advertisers as a way to glean personal information from viewers.

This stuff doesn't bother me a bit, actually. I agree with ellison that privacy is an illusion. We all live in a goldfish bowl whether we like it or not. I may as well complain about the weather.

If I want to participate in this new age of interactivity, I must give up some privacy.

Hopefully, there will be new regulation put in place to control who sees what. The road to this new future will be most interesting.