By P.F. Wilson · June 22nd, 2000 · Channel Surfing
A Spy in the House
David Burke, the British director for White Dot, an anti-television campaign, has written a book about digital interactive TV, Spy TV. His book attempts to expose the agenda of those behind this "revolutionary technology." Burke's background is software design, but when he heard about this technological marvel, he says, "I knew there had to be more to it."
Greater sound and picture quality were the first things we heard about digital TV, but now more features are being mentioned. The whole thing is going to be interactive. Your TV will know which programs you like and which advertisements you tend to watch, where you like to shop and so on. To do this, your TV will build a profile of you. The TV service provider will maintain this profile, and the information will be available to anyone who wants to buy it.
"Such analyses can be combined with externally available data to create an intimate picture of who you are and what motivates you," claims Burke. "It will be sold as customization, but it's not. Programming and advertising will be pushed towards you that's tailored to your interests and tailored to their business plan."
Television is losing viewers. This technology is seen as a way to recapture them and to address them more efficiently. A few years back, A.
C. Nielsen, a company that measure audiences, tried to add a camera to their set-top devices to see who, if anyone, was watching.
"Luckily people protested," says Burke.
Interactive TV is apparently much more cagey. Burke says this has become a bipartisan issue. "Privacy and TV as separate issues tend to cut across politics," Burke explains. "What we've found with White Dot is that half of our members are conservatives and half are liberals. Those on the right worry about government using information, while the left worries about big business. They're both right, because that's exactly what's happening."
Burke points out, "The Internet and interactive TV share certain functionality. But interactive TV makes some of the privacy problems of the Internet worse, while introducing dangerous new ones. The Internet is not owned by anyone. You own your computer and maintain control of its software. With interactive TV, the entire network belongs to one company, and you have little say over how it chooses to operate the box on your TV set. [Their] software can change without your knowing anything about it."
Burke also points to Internet privacy policies which, by the time you get to the fine print, say they'll take any information they want. This is exactly what interactive TV hopes to do.
"There will have to be legislation put into place to protect privacy," Burke states. "The providers of interactive TV hope to make the observation of people in their homes seem normal and publicly acceptable, while they have the chance."
Programmers and advertisers are giddy with excitement. Many haven't even stopped to consider the consequences. They are simply looking at how the technology will help build their businesses and their careers. "I know some of them," Burke says. "They're excited. I'd be excited. These people are having a great time."
Looking up Digital TV on the Internet yields 500,000 hits. The first 50 make no mention of privacy concerns. This following quote turned up, however in a press release by Byron Smith, marketing officer for Excite@Home. Speaking of a test marketing program they were about to implement he said, "This trial will allow us to present a new experience, and together, we will learn more about how consumers will interact with personalized content and applications through their television sets."
Of course, much of this relies on programmers coming up with shows that will pull people away from sporting activities, their computers and other things they are doing instead of sitting in front of the tube.
Winston Smith only had Big Brother to worry about but, if Burke is right, we may soon have to worry about Everybody and his Brother.
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