Personal information and data can be captured and aggregated in the most unlikely of ways. Take, for example, television viewing habits.
In the past, data aggregators such as A.C. Neilson have used a variety of techniques to measure television audiences’ viewing habits in order to assemble ratings and assist networks and advertisers in identifying viewership and demographic rankings. It began with people compiling viewing information in journals. As technology progressed, Neilson and other data aggregators used “black boxes” attached to televisions to compile the all-important viewership and demographic information. Some people equated these activities to a form of “Big Brother” watching over us, but in virtually all cases, the “Neilson families” did so willingly and were compensated for their voluntary participation.
Just as everything else, we have now progressed well beyond the activities of yesteryear. The latest news on the viewership and demographic aggregation front comes from Google, which has announced that it is teaming up with TiVo, the digital video recording company, to assist advertisers in measuring how and when their ads are viewed by consumers. As most people know, TiVo and its progeny allow viewers to “fast forward” through commercials so that they can view only the content they elect to watch. While a boon to viewers who hate commercials, this capability frustrates advertisers who pay tens of thousands if not tens of millions of dollars to television and cable networks to promote their services and products. According to Google, this new service is an attempt to re-create its AdWords and AdSense models on the small screen.
The hitch is that most TiVo users typically catch the beginning or end of a commercial or other unwanted programming as they attempt to watch their selected shows. Only the most prolific of remote controllers can precisely fast forward their recorded programming to view only what they want and not what they don’t want. Having now had TiVo for 7-1/2 years, I still suffer the fate of imperfect fast forwarding and consequent rewinding. I just can’t totally avoid those pesky commercials, no matter how hard I try. And believe me, I try.
Google is of the view that even that momentary viewership of the undesirable commercials, while not a full ad impression, is meaningful to advertisers. Thus, it plans to use “anonymous second-by-second DVR viewing data” to track how viewers see ads placed through Google TV Ads and to assemble data on viewers’ television habits.
So, what can we as TiVo users do about it? Google has not yet announced if viewers can “opt-out” of this service. If that option is not available, then the only options seem to be that we participate as willing or unwilling (and uncompensated) participants, or give up our TiVo. Needless to say, that latter option is not realistic. I love my TiVo. I won’t give it up. But at what cost? The price of my privacy, it seems.