Make us your home page
Instagram

TiVo users: Your TV watching is being watched

David Lazarus   (Katy Raddatz/The Chronicle) **

{filename

David Lazarus (Katy Raddatz/The Chronicle) **

If you're a TiVo user, your digital video recorder may be ratting you out to advertisers.

In the latest example of consumer privacy being threatened by Big Data, TiVo's number-crunching subsidiary last week announced a partnership with media heavyweight Viacom that helps advertisers target TV viewers with specific commercials.

Think of it like this: A car company wants to reach men in their 20s. Viacom knows that younger guys like watching the spy cartoon Archer on Comedy Central. TiVo will now be able to say whether the commercial actually was seen by target viewers — and if any of them went on to buy the car.

"The Holy Grail of TV advertising has been to figure out who's watching and match it with their behavior," said James Dempsey, executive director of the University of California at Berkeley's Center for Law & Technology. "This seems to do that."

TiVo and Viacom say they're going beyond past industry efforts to improve the effectiveness of commercials. Apparently, they'll match their data with other publicly available information to create a detailed picture for advertisers about which viewers are most open to a pitch and how those people respond.

"This is something that hasn't been seen before in the consumer space," said Neil Richards, a law professor who specializes in privacy issues at Washington University in St. Louis. "The potential for abuse is enormous. Imagine this being used to influence the political process, with propaganda being targeted at specific voters."

TiVo said insights from its "second-by-second tune-in data" for more than 2 million homes will be applied to Viacom's "3.4 billion television subscribers worldwide." The partnership, it said, "will unlock new capabilities for marketing and advertising partners."

Along with Comedy Central, Viacom's pay-TV offerings include MTV, Nickelodeon, Spike and BET.

Richards and other experts said TiVo's and Viacom's example almost certainly will be followed by other DVR providers and media companies.

What should consumers make of this? My feeling is that the more gibberish companies employ to announce their intentions, the more people should worry.

"This integration will make Viacom the first network to offer advertisers true single-source solutions for audience targeting and measurement," declared Frank Foster, senior vice president and general manager of TiVo Research and Analytics, the company's data-mining unit.

"The combination of Viacom's advanced predictive engine and TiVo's anonymized, granular set-top box data, matched directly to purchase and consumer engagement data in a privacy-protected manner, allows advertisers to see much more than (just) if their campaign was viewed," he said.

There are soothing words in there, such as "privacy-protected" and "anonymized," suggesting that people's personal information will remain under wraps.

But it won't, not if the goal is "audience targeting and measurement."

Rebecca Herold, an Iowa privacy consultant, said the whole idea of targeted marketing undermines claims that people's personal data will be "anonymized," or stripped of information that could identify individual viewers.

"If data is going to be used to determine the shows households have viewed, and then send targeted marketing to those households, then the data obviously was not anonymized, was it?" she said.

Is this arrangement fair to TiVo users? They apparently have no choice except to cancel their service. TiVo's privacy policy states that the company "may work with third-party advertising companies that collect and use information to deliver more relevant advertising."

No one should be surprised that consumer data is being put to such sophisticated use. Data mining has evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry, focused on employing vast amounts of people's personal information to manipulate their behavior.

In many cases, there's a trade-off involved. For example, Google gives away its online services for free, but in return, it leverages users' data for marketing purposes.

In TiVo's and Viacom's case, consumers are paying for the companies' services, yet are still forfeiting a measure of their privacy.

TiVo users: Your TV watching is being watched 11/09/15 [Last modified: Monday, November 9, 2015 6:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  2. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood

    Business

    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  3. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa

    Business

    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  4. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county

    Water

    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.
  5. Honda denies covering up dangers of Takata air bags

    Autos

    With just a third of the defective Takata air bag inflators replaced nationwide, the corporate blame game of who will take responsibility — and pay — for the issue has shifted into another gear.

    Honda is denying covering up dangers of Takata air bags. | [Scott McIntyre, New York Times]