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Verizon Patents Eavesdropping Using Your TV For Ad Targeting 181

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the 1984-was-not-a-design-manual dept.
MojoKid writes with news of the latest and greatest idea brought to you by a marketing department. From the article: "It's a patent that sounds like a plot description for a science-fiction movie or the result of Apple's Siri and Google's AdSense mating. With it, Verizon could program its set-top boxes to survey a room to determine relevant ads to display either on your television or mobile phone. Sound a bit scary? It kind of is. Verizon's new technology can work a variety of ways. For starters, it can listen in on conversations — whether it be with someone else in the room or on the phone — and pick out keywords that would aid it in its duties. In reality, it's simple stuff in this day and age, but that doesn't make it any less off-putting. Imagine arguing with your significant other and then seeing marriage counseling ads on the TV — or better, cuddling and then seeing ads for contraceptives."
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Verizon Patents Eavesdropping Using Your TV For Ad Targeting

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  • Prior art (Score:5, Funny)

    by ACE209 (1067276) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @09:55AM (#42190949)
    Isn't there prior art from 1984?
    (I leave it to you if I meant the year or a certain novell)
    • Re:Prior art (Score:4, Informative)

      by alexandre_ganso (1227152) <surak@surak.eti.br> on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @10:12AM (#42191147)

      And from samsung. And from this other company on the comments:

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2117493/Samsungs-latest-TV-sets-built-cameras-spark-concerns.html [dailymail.co.uk]

      • by kryliss (72493)

        I have not found a camera yet that is resistant to electrical tape on the lens.

    • Some people see "1984" as a guidebook, not as a warning.

      But actually, this is just a company, who is trying to maximize profits (breaking laws generates a cash cost, which is taken into account in the optimization study). The spying is scary, but the results are just some ads, which in a worst case are very embarrassing.

      Next week's article, which reports that multiple governments are interested in this same technology, will be more worrying.

      • by Sentrion (964745) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @11:47AM (#42192207)

        Yesterday in Slashdot we discussed that police departments are urging legislators to REQUIRE that mobile service providers keep a log of text messages for all users. While many would agree that using such information to prosecute true criminals of heinous crimes, the same logs could be abused just as easily by a tyrannical regime. Active monitoring devices in our own homes could have a chilling effect on dissent of any form. Congress inquiries with questions like "are you or have you ever been a member of the [fill in your political affiliation] Party?" McCarthyism unfolded on a public stage and revealed itself to the American people for what it was. Today we just have to mention the word "McCarthyism" and it has a similar connotation as invoking the words "Hitler" "facist" or "communist". But if a tyrannical regime could suppress dissent before it ever leaves the home from which the most fundamental discussions begin, then there would be litte hope of dissent ever forming a critical mass following that could effect change. The references to 1984 are quite appropriate.

        But even without the threat from a potential tyrant, imagine the damage that could be done if scammers or British newspapers hack into the system?

      • by gtall (79522)

        "The spying is scary, but the results are just some ads, which in a worst case are very embarrassing."

        Dear, why is every second ad trying to sell me testosterone pills? What have you been discussing in front of the TV?

  • Legal? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @09:57AM (#42190965)

    How does this get around wire-tapping laws in the two party states (where both parties need to know there's recording going on)? If someone comes over and watches TV, do you have to tell them or does Verizon since Verizon is the party doing the recording?

    • Re:Legal? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @10:04AM (#42191045)

      How does this get around wire-tapping laws in the two party states (where both parties need to know there's recording going on)? If someone comes over and watches TV, do you have to tell them or does Verizon since Verizon is the party doing the recording?

      IANAL but I am a cynic, so here's what I think would happen:

      Assuming Verizon couldn't just pay some lobbyists to get themselves an exemption, they would simply not record the audio. They would have a list of keywords and they would listen for them in real time. If the system hears a keyword, it increments a counter associated with the keyword but that is all it does, the audio is immediate sent to /dev/null without any sort of permanent record. No actual recording, no legal violation.

      • by Culture20 (968837)
        I would love to see the result of two of these systems in the same room, like a Furby and Siri talking to each other. On the downside, our current president's last name has the sound of a weapon in it, so would that increment his name and that weapon every time only his name was spoken? Would the SS be summarily notified?
      • If the system hears a keyword, it increments a counter associated with the keyword but that is all it does, the audio is immediate sent to /dev/null without any sort of permanent record. No actual recording, no legal violation.

        I like speak in phrases whereby the words said never repeat. Using grammatic syntax reconstruction they could discern, to a high degree of certainty, what has been spoken...

      • How does this get around wire-tapping laws in the two party states (where both parties need to know there's recording going on)? If someone comes over and watches TV, do you have to tell them or does Verizon since Verizon is the party doing the recording?

        IANAL but I am a cynic, so here's what I think would happen:

        Assuming Verizon couldn't just pay some lobbyists to get themselves an exemption, they would simply not record the audio. They would have a list of keywords and they would listen for them in real time. If the system hears a keyword, it increments a counter associated with the keyword but that is all it does, the audio is immediate sent to /dev/null without any sort of permanent record. No actual recording, no legal violation.

        Well transcribing the conversation would certainly be a recording. However, I think, transcribing a certain subset of words I think would qualify as well.

        ...because... not... record every..., not mean... know... meaning... conversation... especially... recording... key...

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Why would anyone buy one of these boxes in the first place??

        • Because you'll get $5 of coupons a month based on what you talk about in the machine's presence. I seriously couldn't (and still can't) believe that people were willing to let their grocery store track their purchases in exchanged for $0.15 off a can of pees (not that it REALLY matters, if you paid with credit, they already know who you are).
          • by cusco (717999)
            Just do what I and several hundred other people do: use the number (321) 123-4567.
      • Depends on your definition of record. What's the difference between video recording a road to keep track of all the cars that pass through, or a person counting the cars that pass by and taking note of the registration plates.

        A counter in the TV that takes note of how many times words are said is the same thing as making an audio recording of a conversation. If they did speech to text and produced an entire transcript of conversations, isn't that the same as an audio recording?

        I really hope this never ever

      • by Khyber (864651)

        "If the system hears a keyword, it increments a counter associated with the keyword but that is all it does,"

        Which would (in reality) still get transmitted for advertising info purposes and thus is still a violation of informed-consent wiretapping laws.

    • by mark-t (151149)
      I expect it gets around it by not actually explicitly transmitting what it hears or sees to anyone else... but instead uses local software to infer what ads would be appropriate for the context, and then pull those advertisements down.
    • How does this get around wire-tapping laws in the two party states (where both parties need to know there's recording going on)? If someone comes over and watches TV, do you have to tell them or does Verizon since Verizon is the party doing the recording?

      Do you use Verizon? If so, I'd suggest carefully re-reading your contract with this development in mind . . .

    • Re:Legal? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Jawnn (445279) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @10:06AM (#42191077)
      Simple. Verizon (or whoever licenses their technology) will have made more than enough "campaign contributions" to keep the regulators from bothering them. You didn't really think your privacy mattered when stood up against corporate interests, did you? Wake up.
      • Simple. Verizon (or whoever licenses their technology) will have made more than enough "campaign contributions" to keep the regulators from bothering them. You didn't really think your privacy mattered when stood up against corporate interests, did you? Wake up.

        I don't know which makes me more sad: that this post has been modded Insightful, or the fact it's an appropriate mod...

        Probably the latter :(

      • by Khyber (864651)

        Regulators won't bother them.

        Well-armed paranoid people will kill them.

        Doesn't matter. Eventually someone will get pissed enough and they will kill those responsible.

        Those who fail to learn from history...

    • by jythie (914043)
      EULA.

      Such laws usually state that both parties must consent.. not that both parties must understand hey are consenting.
    • by Sloppy (14984)

      How does this get around wire-tapping laws in the two party states (where both parties need to know there's recording going on)?

      That's the buyer's problem. His computer, not Verizon's computer, is recording people without their consent or knowledge.

      Your computer is your agent. If you don't know whose interests your agent serves, maybe you should fire that agent. If you think your agent might get you in trouble with the government, then all the more reason to JUST SAY NO.

  • 1984 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @09:58AM (#42190975) Homepage

    If you haven't already read George Orwell's 1984 [amazon.com] , you really should do so. The frequent comparisons between contemporary society and the novel aren't just based on a vague feeling of constant surveillance, which you might imagine if you don't have a knowledge of the book itself, but with things like this even Orwell's specific technology is coming true and even being outdone.

    In the novel, the protagonist Winston Smith's television watched him just as he was watching it. He had the advantage of an alcove in his home that wasn't within the view of the "telescreen", where he could sit and keep a secret diary. With this news story and the way microphone technology is evolving, I fear that even retiring to a secluded part of the room to write one's forbidden thoughts will have a Clippyesque mascot pop up on the screen to sell you pens and paper.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed) but there was no way of shutting it off completely.

      ...

      The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live - did live, from habit that became instinct-in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

      Winston kept his back turned to the telescreen. It was safer;

      Reality begets fiction. I would prefer this happen only for wondorous things. But sometimes reality begets nightmares.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      In the novel, the protagonist Winston Smith's television watched him just as he was watching it.

      Interestingly, Apple has three relevant patents. The first involves concealing the camera behind a panel [sumobrain.com]. These cameras could still be detected by disassembling the device and inspecting its contents, and as such will appear in any disassembly article. The second involves actually hiding the camera behind the display itself [maclife.com], requiring a specially-modified display panel and backlight. And finally, the real piece de resistance, and actually not the latest of these patents: A display whose image sensing elemen [google.com]

    • Arguably, the stuff the abhuman scum over in advertising are pushing is a much more subtle and dangerous flavor than the traditional statist dystopian genre.

      If you try hard enough, you can build a statist dystopia(y hello thar, GDR); but that sort of thing is staggeringly expensive. The tighter you want your surveillance to be, the bigger the capital and operational costs. If you aren't careful, you'll eventually collapse under your own weight, or have so many subjects pissed off at being poor that you just

  • by Rob the Bold (788862) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @10:03AM (#42191033)

    "Imagine . . . cuddling and then seeing ads for contraceptives."

    If one could actually get past the creepy, peeping-tom, psycho-stalker element of that concept -- which I don't think I could do -- there's still the problem that once you're "cuddling" you've probably already made your contraceptive purchase. And if you haven't, it's a little late for advertising.

    Now I'm trying to un-imagine what "cuddling" sounds like.

    • They could always show ads for baby clothes and the like, if they could differentiate between cuddling with and without contraceptives. I dunno, cuddling has always been kind of snuggling up comfortably to me, what the subbie probably meant to say was having wild yowling sex.

    • by fred911 (83970)

      "once you're "cuddling" you've probably already made your contraceptive purchase."

      Absolutely. Therefore, I hereby patent the use of hyper-linking to display pre-selected porn, once cuddling has been determined.

    • Imagine arguing with your significant other...

      And seeing an ad for a divorce lawyer.
    • There is a positive side of course. Sometimes you're there cuddling and trying to find a suitable way of getting smoothly to the sexytimes. Having an add for contraceptives would be a great queue.

    • by cusco (717999)
      And what is the system going to do if you're watching porn on the computer while the TV is on in the background?
  • but that's enough to make me switch to Comcast if they actually follow through with this.
  • As long as the 'verts don't blow up any heads, where's the harm? /sarcasm
    • by Bieeanda (961632)
      Fortunately there's been a bit of lag, and we're only fifteen minutes into the future so far.
  • Just because it's patented doesn't mean it will ever see the light of day in a working product.

    Verizon realizes this is a public relations nightmare and that the backlash would be so ridiculous it would cave their corporate head quarters phone system, along with calls to Senate and House hearings and the CEO's head.

    So stand down people we are not on some slippery slope here. If and only if they actually submit a product for testing, should anyone get worked up by this.

    • Uh, what? The time to stop this is BEFORE it is made. Once it's made, it may not show up turned on at consumers houses, but instead will be at Walmart and stores. Once it's built in to TVs, even if turned off by default, it's just a simple switch your cable company/TV firmware has to flip before it's on.

      Or, to prove Godwin s law.

      Don't even let your government talk about making large labor camps with lots of incinerators, once you reach that point it is already too late and your government needs replaced.

  • by RNLockwood (224353) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @10:16AM (#42191187) Homepage

    "Verizon Patents Eavesdropping Using Your TV For Ad Targeting"

    It's not my TV or even yours in which it's installed, it's in the set-top box that decodes the signal and responds to the remote. I'll bet that if it's ever deployed DHS will have a back door.

    • " I'll bet that if it's ever deployed DHS will have a back door."

      And that's supposed to make us feel better?

    • Mr. Anderson, what good will a "set-top box" be to you if you have no TV? ::poof::

      Also, you are now aware that many TVs run Linux or other OSs within them. I see no exclusion for performing such "set-top box" features on a TV that has a camera and/or microphone...you know, like a computer has.

  • now when the commercial comes on and you get up to get snaks or go to the bathroom it'll pause so you don't miss the commercials...

    • by cusco (717999)
      One of the network executives said a few years ago that he thought mute buttons should be removed from TV remote controls, because (paraphrased) "every time they're not listening to the commercial that pays for their programming they're stealing from me."
  • Bugging (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheSpoom (715771) <slashdot@ u b e r m00.net> on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @10:21AM (#42191243) Homepage Journal

    I bet anything that police / courts will determine that a warrant is not necessary to intercept this eavesdropping since it was already there (or some other flimsy reasoning). Instant audio bug.

    • Or, indeed, because you have no expectation of privacy.
      • Or, indeed, because you have no expectation of privacy.

        Even in your living room.

        "You bought a TV with a camera and mic in it, right? So you want to be monitored! What's that? You say you didn't have a choice because today all TV's have camera's and mic's in them? Well, now you're just being a whiner."

        Sadly, this is actually how many of my conversations regarding ubiquitous surveillance go.

  • ...and how is this different from Google reading all your mail discussions and targeting ads to you? You've already accepted that a corporation can listen to your conversations and build a profile of your likely purchasing habits. Does the difference in medium - from text to audio - really make that much difference?

    • by rickb928 (945187)

      I tolerate it from Google because they provide me a useful email service in exchange for access to my infor, and targeting ads that I overwhelmingly ignore (when I'm not gaming them for entertainment). My cable provider delivers to me a service I paid for already. If they which to further enhance their revenue stream by this or similar methods (beyond monitoring my set top already for channel changes and such), I may just clip the cable and move on.

      And as others have mentioned, the real poroblem here is t

    • by Holi (250190)

      Installing a microphone in my house is quite a bit different then having an algorithm dig through mail stored on your server.

  • by Marrow (195242) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @10:35AM (#42191379)

    It would be easy for them to see what ads you surfed away from. That information could be saleable and most people would not mind it too much. OTOH, people would mind if they reported on what you were watching when the commercial came up.

    • by cusco (717999)
      Yes, the digital set-top boxes can 'phone home'. Most of them don't unless you participate in Nielsen surveys or some such, but the capability is there. I I fully expect it to be enabled wholesale within a few years, unless you opt-out at the excruciatingly long web page listed on Page 15 of the next 'Privacy Statement' that no one ever reads.
  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @10:41AM (#42191457) Homepage

    Arguments? Pillow talk? Imagine it overhears you discussing whether it is time to overthrow the government (one of the duties of American citizens is to overthrow the government when necessary -- see, for example, The Declaration of Independence). Now suppose it shows you ads for Buds Gun Shop and three books; The Anarchist Cookbook, The Amateur's Guide to Forming a Militia, and So You Want to Overthrow The Government.

    Now, since Verizon is a good citizen that wants to play ball with the government, they provide access to their private corporate information about what ads they have been serving to which households.

  • by 3seas (184403) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @10:42AM (#42191463) Journal

    You have a girlfriend over and little does she know you have cause sex based ads to happen... Or to test how far the information collected goes - role play and act out a murder scene...And then wait for the police to show up ....I've fallen and cant get up...

  • by smooth wombat (796938) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @10:44AM (#42191487) Homepage Journal

    I don't use Verizon for my television but in my parents case, they don't have a cell phone from Verizon so there can't be any listening in on conversations.

    As to the set top box, the article mentions infrared sensors. Electrical tape works wonders. If Verizon complains about "hacking" their hardware, put the set top box in a closed tv stand. It's your property, not theirs, so they can't complain.

    As to a mic in the set top box, same thing. Inside a a closed tv stand what little sound they can pick up will be muffled and not worth their effort to figure out.

    If they still have a problem, cancel your service. Problem solved.

    • And once the cameras are built in to the actual screen, or the TV has the mic?

      Fuck that, the time to throw a fit is now before everything comes from the factory with a camera and mic.

  • And as soon as CNN gets a hold of this, purchases drop to zero. People do not want to be spied on. If there are 99 TVs that all got together and decided to spy on people and there's 1 Chinese knock off, off-brand that doesn't, everyone is going to buy that one instead. This will fail horribly.
  • ... so before everyone goes complaining about prior art existing and how the USPTO must be off their rocker to allow this, it hasn't been allowed yet. It hasn't even been examined. It was applied for 18 months ago, and all patent applications are published after 18 months. It'll probably be first examined sometime next year, with the current backlog.

    In the meantime, you can do something useful by submitting prior art [groklaw.net].

  • by Sun.Jedi (1280674) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @11:02AM (#42191723) Journal
    So when I fill the microphone device on my set top box with glue, will I get ads for a better cable provider?
    • by cusco (717999)
      No, ads for lawyers specializing in defending against property damage claims.
  • by gman003 (1693318) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @11:25AM (#42191967)

    I think, decades from now, we'll look back on the very concept of "targeted advertising" with mockery, like "Duck and Cover" drills in the 50s. Not because it's evil or privacy-invading, but because it doesn't work. (At least, in my estimation).

    Seriously. You can *maybe* target your advertising to people working in a general profession, or in a geographical region, or maybe an age group. But every time I've seen ads targeting me because of something more specific, it's been a terrible failure.

    The ads on Angry Birds were, at one point, *convinced* I was a gay black man with HIV. They were bombarding me with ads for "gay thug dating" or "HIV testing", despite the fact that the only thing they actually got right was "male" (and it's easy to get that one right when it's 50/50 on a blind guess).

    Google keeps hitting me with sports ads. Football, I think, but I care so little about sports in general that I can't really tell. Which tells you how inclined I am to click those links. Or if I buy something, I start getting a lot of ads for competing products, *after* the fact.

    Steam targets poorly with their "recommended games" bit. Usually, it's either stuff already on my wishlist (so I've already decided to buy it next time it's on sale), stuff that's blindingly obvious (oh, you just added Call of Duty 7 to your cart? Might I suggest Call of Duty 6, Call of Duty 8 or Call of Duty 5?), or stuff that I don't like (Train Simulator 2012). And they've got nearly as much data on me as Google. I will give them credit for using some of that data properly - they use their knowledge of what games I own to not try to sell me games I already own, or to try to upsell me on DLC for games I have.

    Those are just three examples. But I could list hundreds more. I have yet to see an advertiser try to target me, and "hit" the target. They're amassing all this data on me, but they're no better at advertising to me than when they just classified me as "late teen/early twenties caucasian male working in some sort of computer field".

    We need to collectively get over our obsession with targeted this or personalized that. It might give impressive results when it works, but I'd bet money that the hit rate is under 1% for the most precise groupings.

    (While we're at it, I'll note that even if your targeting *was* perfect, it's useless if your actual ads are shit. And guess what? Most ads are shit)

  • by PPH (736903) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @12:40PM (#42192777)

    Imagine arguing with your significant other and then seeing marriage counseling ads on the TV

    Unless Smith and Wesson buys those ad words first. Or a local divorce attorney.

  • This sort of shit is only going to drive up pirating of copyrighted TV shows.

    It's bad enough providers like Comcast push so much content thru their copper lines that HDTV looks like crap with any movement, but to spy on their users? Have content providers no shame? Worse, isn't Verizon just a mobile phone/ISP? Does it provide TV to homes now also?

    Wow, just wow. You'd think there would be laws against this sort of thing, it's one thing having a mic on your computer, but to put that on a cablebox jus

  • Verizon does not need to have microphones in its set-top boxes to do this. They're a telephone company. If they are your local provider, they they already have access to your telephone calls: the numbers you call and what time of day and which days of the month you make those calls. If they're providing you with TV access, then your phone system has been changed from copper wire analog phone to digital, and then they've got an even easier way to parse the text in your phone calls and keep track of the vo
  • Microphone: Find the hole in the enclosure, poke it hard with something sharp, destroy microphone.

    Camera(s): Cover with electrical tape.

    Privacy protected, problem solved!
    • Microphone: Find the hole in the enclosure, poke it hard with something sharp, destroy microphone.

      Not so easy, the microphone in my cellphone is not only behind a tiny, tiny hole, the hole goes round a bend first.

  • By now, they should have realized that stalking me with ads is commercially counter-productive, but despite all my efforts they still continue.
  • Anyone consider that this will be used to charge for VOD / PPV by the number of viewers?

    Reminds of articles I read (though I can't find sources now) where video rental companies wanted to charge renters by number of viewers and have video tapes that could only be rewound at the store, so customers could be charged for additional viewings. Of course, both ideas are/were completely unworkable for video rentals.

  • by azav (469988)

    Go Brian. Go Don. When you control the spice, you control the universe.

  • Detecting she is faking it and showing ads for vibrators.

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