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February 6, 2007
TiVo's in Ur House, Sellin' Ur Data
David Lazarus posted a column to SFGate this weekend that contains what I thought was old news and he treats as new news:
TiVo revealed the other day that it's offering TV networks and ad agencies a chance to receive second-by- second data about which programs the company's 4.5 million subscribers are watching and, more importantly, which commercials people are skipping.
I don't think I'm particularly prescient but this surprises me not at all. I thought they were already doing it, but I can't find earlier news references. Perhaps I just read speculation and took it as given that yes, if the equipment lets them do that they're going to do it. Color me cynical, but I figure if you give a corporation a way to exploit you then they'll take it as soon as it's profitable to do so.
Oh, wait, TiVo's still swearing (on a metaphorical Bible no less) that it's not actually watching you, the individual identified viewer. They're just doing "random, anonymous" sampling of 20,000 boxes per night. And they promise to strip off all the identifying info. Which they wouldn't have to promise if they weren't downloading it in the first place, right?
I don't believe for a moment that TiVo cares about viewers' archaic notions of privacy. They've just not figured out a sufficiently profitable way to turn over your second-by-second viewing data to a massive data warehouse from which it can be picked at leisure. Being served with an ongoing stream of subpoenas by (over)eager law enforcement officials might in itself be a sufficiently expensive deterrent. But it's not something I'd like to base my privacy on.
My offer to pay someone to build me a MythTV still stands.
(for reference on the subject line, BoingBoing suggests this entry from encyclopaedia dramatica)
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