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Naughty or nice? Verizon DVR will see and hear you to find out before delivering ads

Dec 09, 20125 mins
Data and Information SecurityEnterprise ApplicationsMicrosoft

Big Brother Verizon has filed a patent for a DVR that will see you when you're sleeping, listen when you're awake, know if your mood is bad or good before delivering targeted ads for goodness sake!

The recent extra-creepy patents by Microsoft and Verizon are meant to detect TV viewers and then take specific actions depending upon what is seen or heard. Why the heck would anybody embrace surveillance technology that could potentially be on the lookout for “thought crime” via the TV? According to Orwell’s 1984: “Every Party member has a telescreen in his or her home, which the Thought Police uses to observe their actions and take note of anything that resembles an unorthodox opinion or an inner struggle. When a Party member talks in their sleep, the words are carefully analyzed.” These patents surely seem to be a step in that direction.

♫ He’s making a list and checking it twice; Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice ♫

We’re not talking about Santa Claus, but Big Brother Verizon that wants to infiltrate your most private moments at home, utilize a DVR to be on the lookout for ambient action, all for the purpose of delivering targeted advertising. The Verizon patent specifically mentions detecting the hypothetical activities of “cuddling, fighting, participating in a game or sporting event, and talking.” Ambient actions Verizon mentions include “eating, exercising, laughing, reading, sleeping, talking, singing, humming, cleaning, and playing a musical instrument.”

Let’s back up for a second to discuss the Microsoft patent which seems to imply that when you sit in front of your Xbox 720, the Kinect-like camera sensors would be capable of counting heads in the room and charging a fee based on how many viewers it “sees” before you hit play. It might also require “ID” if the viewer seems too young for the content’s rating. Not all patents are turned into actual products Microsoft told Paul McNamara when he asked about the DRM technology patent.

Back to the details described in the Verizon patent; if you have a beer in hand, the Verizon DVR device would, for example, detect that “Budweiser can” and show you a “Budweiser commercial.” The same targeted advertising scenario would apply if you have the munchies and have a “soft drink can, a bag of chips” in hand, or if you are “running on a treadmill, doing aerobics, or lifting weights.” That’s barely scratching the surface since your surroundings will also be analyzed “furniture (e.g., a couch, a chair, etc.), a decoration (e.g., a painting, a photograph, etc.)” to pimp ads and products your way.

Neither you, nor your pet, would have any privacy, since the device will be waiting to detect you “playing with a dog” (cat, bird, etc.). If your dog is scratching itself, then get ready for “a flea treatment commercial.”

Big Brother Verizon also wants to help out by detecting your mood. Stressed out? The patent says the “advertising facility may select an advertisement associated with the detected mood (e.g., a commercial for a stress-relief product such as aromatherapy candles, a vacation resort, etc.).”

Like in the Microsoft patent, Verizon also wants to determine your identity as well as anyone else within the detection area, “based on the physical and/or voice attributes of the user and/or a user profile associated with the user,” determine a user’s mood (e.g., based on the user’s tone of voice, mannerisms, demeanor, etc.), and/or make any other suitable determination associated with the user, the user’s identity, the user’s actions, and/or the user’s surroundings.” It “may select an advertisement based on user profile information associated with the user (e.g., information associated with the user’s preferences, traits, tendencies, etc.).”

That’s right, not just watching, but also listening via tiny microphones embedded in the Verizon DVR; the better to hear if a user “is singing or humming a song.” Don’t be silly by thinking that’s the end of it; if you are fiddling with your mobile device the patent mentions detecting “one or more words spoken by a user (e.g., while talking to another user within the same room or on the telephone)” and then splashing the TV with advertisements associated with those spoken words.

♫ He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good…♫

Forget Saint Nick, the Verizon device will spy and eavesdrop, so that if the device “detects that a couple is arguing/fighting with each other, advertising facility may select an advertisement associated marriage/relationship counseling.” Furthermore, the technology “may utilize one or more terms associated with cuddling (e.g., the terms ‘romance,’ ‘love,’ ‘cuddle,’ ‘snuggle,’ etc.) to search for and/or select a commercial associated with cuddling (e.g., a commercial for a romantic getaway vacation, a commercial for a contraceptive, a commercial for flowers, a commercial including a trailer for an upcoming romantic comedy movie, etc.).”

While this sort of assault on your privacy will surely be opt-in, these invasive Big Brother style technologies, watching and listening to people inside their homes, will reveal a lot more than “I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus.”

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.