Monday, July 29, 2013

In the Future, Your TV will be Watching You

When most people think of Google, they think of the search engine they use to get information for everything from a recipe for a family dinner or how to fix a leaky faucet, to background on the dinosaurs for a kid’s homework project.

But it’s been well-documented in the press that Google has set its sights on a much broader, more pervasive presence.  Not only does Google own other social media entities, such as YouTube, but it also has sponsored the development of new technologies, such as Google Glass®.  Google Glass® is said to have the ability pack the power of a smart phone in the frames of sunglasses or even prescription glasses.   The touted benefit is hands-free access to the information you get in a smart phone.

The fear some have of the new technology is the mini-camera that Google Glass® features.  They worry that the ubiquitous nature of such technology not only makes it possible for more and more people to capture still and moving images of each other just about anywhere, but that we won’t even be able to detect it as much when a camera is being used to photograph or take video of us.

To be sure, the omnipresence of security cameras today has created an atmosphere where no one can reasonably assume privacy when out in public or in certain office buildings or commercial facilities.

The one refuge we can still count on is our living room, right?  Maybe. 

The Wall Street Journal reported that Google could be working on a television set-top box with a motion sensor and a video camera that could have the ability to track our movements, record our voices and monitor our behaviors.

The business objective of such technology, we are told, is to help marketers better understand our tastes, wants, needs and behavior patterns to better meet our expectations.

The International Business Times described it this way, “…two people cuddling on a sofa watching TV might see a commercial for a romantic Disney cruise, while an arguing couple might see a pitch for couples’ therapy.”

This was how the publication described the application of a data collection technology that is at the center of a patent application field by Verizon Communications Inc.

I still don’t like it when Microsoft Word does “autocomplete” to finish words I start and makes bad assumptions on where I was going.  I can only imagine how I will feel when my TV doesn’t get my jokes, or doesn’t agree with the clothes I’m wearing and makes judgments.

Apparently, I’m not alone.

There is a bill before congress that will require that consumers consent to the collection of such private data based on “ambient action.”  The bill has been described as the “We Are Watching You Act of 2013.”

What this all reinforces is that the technology industries are evolving from a former stance of using the latest advances to making life easier for the user, to collecting data on the user for sale to a third party.  The paradigm shift is that technology is no longer about the user but is now about the “watcher.”

In other words, the real money in the future is on data collection, a form of commercialized voyeurism.  The more personal, the more valuable.  The more valuable, the more revenue.  It goes from there.

This raises a number of questions.  What is the role of technology?  What rights should telecommunications companies and other technology providers have to the most private information on users?  Can we trust them with the data?

I don’t know about you, but I have a pretty good idea on how I’d answer all of the above.  Where I sit on my couch is none of my TV's business.

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