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TiVo Usage Info Collected For Sale 276

therevan writes: "Headline News reports here that TiVo, the digital television recording technology, has been accused by privacy groups of selling user usage info to advertising agencies. Now you're not even safe with your computer unplugged." Though no specific sale is talked about, the article says that TiVO has acknowleged creating an (anonymized) database of viewing information for that purpose. It's not the first time that privacy concerns about TiVO viewing habits have been raised, but the company insist that all such information is separated from personally identifying information.
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TiVo Usage Info Collected For Sale

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  • Yeah and if GM decides to make shoddy cars you should just not buy them; and if meat packing plants decide to process meat that has been sitting on the floor with poisoned bread to catch rats, the dead rats themselves, and their fecal matter it shouldn't matter right?

    Abso-fucking-lutely right -- inasmuch as criminal law is concerned. Civil law is an entirely different matter.

    Should making shoddy cars be illegal? What's next, throwing people in jail for dereferencing null pointers? Whether someone's job is done poorly enough to make them unfit to do it is something best determined by those who actually make use of their work, no? How can /you/ claim to be able to better make that decision?

    Even the meat-packing plants -- if they can withstand the public protest brought up by the media, and they don't actually harm anyone (thus resulting in civil sanctions) more power to 'em! Government involvement is (and was) unnecessary and should not have occured.

  • In the US 5000 people died last year due to unsanitary conditions in meat packing plants but the government continued to give them a good rating.

    Fine. I don't care. As you might surmise from my previous post, I don't think the government has any particular reason to be rating meat packing plants anyhow -- so why should it bother or surprise me that they're doing a bad job?

    However, let's presume for a moment that these 5000 people really did die. This has:

    • attracted media attention
    • made folks like you unhappy
    • prompted people who are unwilling to assume the risks (which they are now aware of, thanks to the media) start avoiding (or more thoroughly cooking) meat
    • had no effect on people like me who are willing to assume the risks involved in eating meat (despite being aware of these risks)
      • Now, if the number of people like you is large enough to warrant it, no doubt some vendor of meats would go through the effort to clean up their plant, invite the media in to inspect it, run an advertising blitz, whatever. If that hasn't happened, it means that not enough people care -- that 5,000 deaths a year is not sufficient to justify to society the increased cost of meats which would be associated with this cleanup. Hey, if that's what the market decides, I'm happy with it.

        In short, I don't see what the problem is here.

  • I personally don't mind what they do with the data as long as my name is not attached to it. If it helps Tivo be profitable and survive against an increasing field of (more unscrupulous) competators, let them. The Tivo is great and i would be really unhappy if they were not successful and were forced out of the market and I had to go to a vendor such as M$ that really does not give a shit about the customer the way the Tive does.
    • Tivo makes this clear in their user manual. It may be close to the back, but it is in fairly large print, and pretty clear about what they do and don't do.
    • You can opt out (800 number call, also covered in the manual).
    • People that have poked around on the TiVo itself (it runs Linux, and makes it trivial to get a shell) have verified that systems set to not report back don't.

    Oh, yeah, and I would rather the broadcasters knew what shows I watch so they can put more like them on the air. I would rather they know what commercials I watch, and what I skip over so they can get more entertaining ones. But that's just my opinion, you can always opt-out, it's an 800 number, and I hear it only takes a few minutes.

    P.S. slashdot covered this quite a while ago, when they contrasted this with ReplayTV's policy. I didn't own either box at the time, so I didn't pay all that much attention...

  • If you opt-out, you pay the $10/month fee or whatever it is.

    Two problems:

    • They already decided they need the $10/month from people that opt'ed-in (or really just failed to opt-out), so the "opt-out" payment would have to be on top of that
    • Making people pay for privacy seems to be a bad PR move, so it is generally a good idea to give it away for free.
  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but if TiVo allows you to skip advertising,

    You can only skip commercials if you are watching far enough behind real time (i.e. if an hour of TV has 15 min of commercials, and I start 10 minutes late, I can only skip over 10 minutes of commercials). Plus some commercials are actually entertaining, or for things you might want to see (like a commercial for a new TV show, or movie, or maybe you like the new VW or Apple commercials).

    I watch most of my TV long after it has stopped being live (TiVo catches 3 or 4 Star Treks overnight, and I delete most of them because I have seen them, but some are ones I have missed and catches 3 or 4 ERs a day too, if I'm in the mood I watch, otherwise they get autodeleted, it picks up all my primetime TV too, most I'm not in a big hurry to watch).

    A few shows I end up watching close to live because I "can't wait", like Buffy, or the new showings of ER. When I catch up to live I either watch commercials (while surfing on my 802.11 connected laptop), or I have the TiVo show me something it recorded before until I think I have "enough slack", or I'm sucked into the old show (a 30min commercial TV show can be watched in about 18min, so it provides enough slack for a 1hour commercial TV show...). Plus I like the VW ads, and some of the Apple ads, and...

  • Think of the most conservative, narrow-minded person you know. Now think of the silliest, stupidest show you really enjoy (we all have one or a dozen of those). now imagine that the narrowminded one is using your viewing data to make a decision about you (job, loan, college, whatever). Do you still feel comfortable?

    So they know someone in 22032 watches Sopranos, and Buffy, and Nova, and... They don't know it is me. If they did, and it influenced a hiring choice, then I wouldn't have wanted to work for or with them anyway. I'm done with collage, so that leaves me with just the home loan to worry about. I doubt knowing that someone in my zipcode watches a show is going to change that.

    If it is a big deal to you, call 1-877-FOR-TIVO (se page 72 of your manual) and opt-out. Now it really is a small deal isn't it?

  • Not to mention that the setup menus include an opt-out option as well (though, I'm not clear on what happens to the data they've already collected if you use this method).

    Really? I can't seem to find it.

    The thing is you don't want to opt out. There's no junk mail you get because of it (though the junk mail your neighborhood gets might change slightly); you never get calls because of it and best of all, no one can tell you watch smut-o-vision ;-)

    The satalite (and I assume cable) smut-o-vision is pretty lame anyway. Your better off going to the local video store, or buying DVDs or something. :-)

    The benefits on the other hand: better selection of "recommended shows" based on what you thumbs-up and down

    T hey don't do that currently. Mostly because they can't do it on their server (it doesn't know what *you* watch), and the server would have to send too much data to your end (it would have to tell your TiVo that watching Judge Judy and QVC and blah-blah means you may want this other thing, even though you don't watch any of that!).

    Thumb's up and down also aren't sent anywhere, I think that is covered on page 70 :-) so it only knows what you watched, not how much you claim to like it.

    There is talk of an opt-in service for that, but I think that is all TiVo users talking, not TiVo itself. Similarly web control of the TiVo would break the privacy policy, which is a big part of why they don't have it (and ReplayTV does).

  • Thumbs *can* be sent, actually. The software provides for that. However, they are not actually sent,

    I wasn't refering to what the software can/can't do, just to the promise that TiVo makes on page 70 of the manual "The TiVo Service has no way of knowing what shows you have given "Thumbs Up" or "Thumbs Down" to". That is explained in a little more detail on page 71 as well.

    The privacy policy actually allows for an opt-in to send your private viewing data. It's assumed this is for future services like a web interface or some such. Especially the bit about "this may limit the services we can offer to you". So if they ever do make a web service, you'd have to sign up for it and give them permission to get your personal data for the service.

    Yes, I didn't mean to imply the policy prevented opt-in agreements to sent/use more personal data. I was saying TiVo themselves have not said what these services would be, and the only people I have heard talking about it are not on the TiVo payroll (i.e. arn't RB, just other AVS wankers like, I mean AVS members like that stripes fellow....). Of corse I think you have read more of the AVS stuff then I have, so you may have seen RB say something I missed.

    I can dream up half a dozen opt-in services, but that doesn't mean TiVo is working on any of them.

  • It's good that Tivo lets people opt out. The problem with that is how many people read the manual?

    The stuff in the manual isn't hidden fine print. It is normal size print. It is listed in the table of contents as "Privacy and Service". If someone gives a rat's ass about privacy and doesn't at least skim the manual, I can't say I care.

    It's a lot like someone who only wants a full-size spare not bothering to look in the trunk before they buy the car. Should I care about them?

    And who's to say there won't be some sort of McCarthy-like hunt for people who like violent shows in 5-10 years. And Hey! Tivo wants to help hunt down the ner-do-wells.

    As long as you have stopped watching such shows by then it won't matter. The current loging isn't linked to the unit, so even if they later change the privacy policy then they will still not be able to link up my old data with my old habits.

    Of corse I'm still screwed because I'm sure "DVD Empire" remembers what I have bought from them, and CD Now knows all the "violent lyric" music I've bought, and...

    How many people (outside of the concerned population of /.) know about the data collected? And of those that do, how many have opted out? I doubt that many have.

    Page 73 is fairly clear on what they collect, and they encurage you to phone them up and ask for a copy of data they collect, or opt-out if it bugs you. I assume anyone who really cares, knows how to read, and has five free minutes has done the opt-out.

    What would you do to make it more clear if you were TiVo? I don't think making it opt-in is an option, because they need the money, and short of that it seems like they have done everything I think they should.

  • This is true, but I was trying to point out that the opt-in would not be included in the Privacy Policy for no reason. Either they are working on it, or are doing some good thinking ahead.

    Yeah, and they do seem like the think ahead type.

  • by stripes ( 3681 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @09:08AM (#339672) Homepage Journal
    According to the article on MSNBC concerning this, TiVo claims that there is an 800# subscribers can call to have all data, even anonymous data, removed from their database and have no further data taken. Anyone know what this # is?

    Chapter 7 "Privacy and Service" starts on page 71 of my manual, page 73 lists the "1-877-FOR-TIVO (1-877-367-8486)" number as the one to call to review the data TiVo has sent, or to have it all deleted and your TiVo to not send more.

    It defanalty isn't hidden. The print isn't even any smaller then the rest of the plain text in the manual.

  • TiVo has never made a secret that this happens. You can fairly easily view the logs that are sent to TiVo. They are detailed DOWN to every button press. Yes, TiVo knows that someone (though not a specific person) freeze framed on
    Lucy Lawless when she got out of that bath.I know I did) You can opt out of this with a single phone call.

    But, hell, I want TiVo to be a success. I want them to still be around in the future, this means they have to make money, and this information is GOLD to advertisers. TiVo can easily work out which adverts people REALLY watch - this is a good thing.

  • And the only information they'd get from UUNet is the fact that, yes, your phone DID dial the UUNet POP and log into the TiVo service last night. Big deal. That's not much use to anyone. Maybe telemarketers who already have your phone number anyway.
  • Extra phone calls? I've had TiVo service for 6 months, and never ONCE been called. By anyone.
  • Um, have you ever watched TV? The ads are inserted during the programming. Except for PBS, of course.
  • My understanding is that this is at the request of the TiVo people - They've been very favourable to hacking, under the general condition that said hackers don't screw with their revenue stream. Once their revenue stream gets affected, you can bet that they'll lock this beast down tighter than a drum, and then there will be no joy in Mudville for anyone.
  • by Manuka ( 4415 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @08:15AM (#339680)
    I would imagine much of TiVo was designed with this capability ultimately in mind. I wouldn't mind getting the service for a discount if I consented to my viewing habits being sold, or for free if they actually attached my name to it.
  • and the provider of the information should be compensated.
    Um... maybe Tivo will continue to exist as an independent company? TV producers will (maybe) sell more relevant ads and therefore continue producing shows? Shouldn't those things be compensation enough? Right now, unless TV advertising becomes much more effective, TV channels are facing the same long term situation as web sites- they have a lot of ads that aren't relevant and that people ignore. If Tivo can help make those ads more relevant before the ad people figure out they are wasting their money then more power to them.
  • I have a Tivo, and I know they collect button press and viewing data on me, and I am fine with that (mostly because they told me up front they are doing it).

    I was very amused when I read about how they interpreted the button press data: They think if I always fastforward through the commercials on the Simpsons (for example) then the commercials on the Simpsons must really suck, but if I rarely fastforward through the commercials on Friends, then those must be really good, well targeted commercials. In reality it is completely the opposite. If I am actually paying attention to a show (like the Simpsons) then I will always fastforward through the commercials, but if the show is nearly meaningless to me (like Friends) then I don't fastforward through the commercials because I am probably in the kitchen washing dishes or something where I can't even see the TV.

    I wish the best to Tivo, and I hope they can pull huge amounts of money from the networks and advertisers for all of my "data", but I reserve the right to laugh at their interpretation.

  • by JeffL ( 5070 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @09:05AM (#339683) Homepage
    No, the hours are taken from people who have increased their recording time beyond a certain limit, whether by increasing the A or B drive size. A Tivo purchased with 60 hours is "really" a 72 hour Tivo with 12 hours reserved, so when 2.0 gets installed on a hacked 96 hour Tivo it notices that it isn't reserving 12 hours, so it grabs them and turns the Tivo into an 84 hour Tivo. The max number of hours it takes is 12, but the amount scales down with smaller sized units. If you haven't hacked your Tivo, it won't take any time from you.

    They have not specified what the extra hours are for, but I am pretty convinced it is for some type of targetted ads. 12 hours could never be filled over the phone line, so it has to be something sucked down from the airwaves, which is either pay-per-view or targeted ads, and ads seems more realistic.

    Tivo has been told, and I hope they understand, that the users won't mind targetted ads as long as they in no way impact our viewing, as soon as we are forced to watch ads then all "well behaved" hacking stops, and we all learn how to hack the guide data and cancel our subscriptions.

  • At a restaurant we would go to the back with our credit card to swipe it, create our own ticket, sign it and put it in the deposit slip of the restaurant. Instead of handing the waiter our card. He could be buying stuff with it in between the time he left the table and comes back. We would walk around with paper bags on our heads. We would sue friends for using our names in conversations.

    These privacy groups are a little bit too radical. Do we really want to go so far with privacy that the net is completely useless? I don't mind the slight invasion of privacy if I can use such a great tool as the internet to make life easier.

  • The information gathered is completely seperate from your identity and Tivo has always been up front about this.

    In fact during beta I had to sign a release to allow Tivo to connect certain uploaded information to my account so they could debug a potential problem.

    These guys are pro-privacy, they're not about to become Big Brother anytime soon.
  • I think I actually pay more attention to the commercials now that I've got a TiVo for two reasons

    1. I have to watch closely when I'm fast-forwarding so I don't overshoot
    2. It's easy to go back to watch a commercial that looks interesting.

    My wife actually enjoys cirtiquing the commercials as they fly by: her big thing is that if we can't identify what they were selling on a 30-second slot when we're on double fast forward, the advertiser hasn't done their job properly.


  • W/ Digital TV after all why don't they just run commercials continuously in a subwindow or along the bottom or overlayed transparently or with an additional audio track. This is all about revenue it's not about programming. So if they want to generate more revenue eg. more 'hits' then they should run commercials continuously. That way they could avoid commercial breaks and we wouldn't be able to escape the adds or skip over them. I mean, what other earthly purpose could there be for this. Does anyone for example really want to see the director's cut of Coyote Ugly? Who gives a shit - just run a digital feed be it broadcast or DVD and force us to watch continual ads. I also want to see ads inside of music videos either inline or cutaway. We don't have attention spans that can last a whole video so we need a break. A commercial is a good thing to put there. Likewise radio cuts. Instead of those lame homebrew mixes just cut in commercials. We can have Biggie and Tupac live on selling shit. I also believe with all my heart that movie theaters need to start cutting away every few minutes for commercials.
  • by PD ( 9577 ) <> on Monday March 26, 2001 @09:02AM (#339692) Homepage Journal
    I've got a TiVo and one can only HOPE that they are selling my usage information. They will see that I never ever watch "The Golden Girls" but I do watch "Babylon 5". Maybe the networks will get a clue.

  • ObDisclaimer: I work for TiVo, specifically, if your box harfs and we need to diagnose it using info from the logs, I'm one of the people that does that. I don't work with the viewing (aka "private") logs, only the "public" logs (temperature, file system, kernel messages, etc.).

    TiVo is paranoid enough about your privacy that when they do upload the viewing logs, they are given a creation date and time that's bogus so they can't be matched to the "public" logs. Or to the time you called in. Even if I knew when you called and what you watched and had access, I'd have no way of matching which viewing log went with which machine.

    Naturally, no one at the "Privacy Foundation" sought to see what was implemented on the *server* side of the process to ensure anyone's privacy.

    But, getting back to all this, why is such information useful? Because shows are expensive to produce. Because airtime is expensive. Because the information about what someone who watches A also watches might be of interest to someone. Like an advertiser.

    Perhaps, in the future, better information will help prevent cancelling my favorite shows (like Total Recall 2070 and Cleopatra 2525). Perhaps companies will realize the value of syndication for hour-long quality dramas. Perhaps it'll help open more markets.

    And, while I'm in the middle of this commentary, perhaps it'll mean that we get MORE diversity in shows. For example, science fiction author Steven Barnes makes the point that the first show in which an African-American actor: 1) received top billing; 2) for an hour-long drama; 3) that lasted more than one season was Avery Brooks for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Isn't that about 40 years too late?

    And so we have Gina Torres, a Hispanic African-American actress, who may well be the second. And the show gets cancelled. Yeah, Cleo isn't exactly as serious as DS9, but it is a solid show. If you care, please write to [mailto] and [mailto]. After all, it's better than half the original series on SciFi.


  • There are already at least a dozen people out there who know how to hack the guide data. They just haven't been spreading the info around very much.

  • by alhaz ( 11039 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @08:43AM (#339698) Homepage
    The "stolen" hours you refer to are a bogeyman of the 2.0 upgrade that's been blown way out of proportion.

    What TiVo SAID was that uses who have upgraded their A drive (not the B drive) will lose a portion of the space when they get 2.0 due to the way they did it. They were just giving people some fair warning.

    Since upgrading the A drive is really difficult, I doubt this will affect many people.

  • That was my point. VCRs let you do it, but it was difficult. You had to setup the VCR and you had to wait until the show was over to watch it. None of that is true with a Tivo.

    With the Tivo it is trivial to record all your shows. Also you can watch a show and skip the commercials at the same time. (They can play and record simultaneously)

    So, even if I want to watch a prime time lineup, I just start watching a little later in the evening. A 20-30 minutes delay for each hour of TV lets me skip all the commercials.

    It is hard to describe the difference between a PVR and VCR. It isn't just a VCR with a disk. It is a whole new interface to TV. Yes, it sounds like an add, but even my parents saw the difference in a few days after I bought them a Tivo.

  • I wish

    Actually I prefer Coca-Cola. Don't endorsements make more money? :-)

  • The biggest problem with Tivo selling the data is that the television networks are going to figure out that Tivo users never watch commercials! I watch almost nothing in real-time and always skip the commercials. It's great, but not what television executives want to hear. There was a piece on 60 minutes recently about PVRs. This was one of their main points, if people don't watch ads then they lose the revenue to sustain the shows. They suggested in-program product placements (the hero holds up a pepsi) and pay-per-view for normal TV as alternatives. They are expecting PVRs to be the biggest commercial electonics product launch in history. (faster then CDs, DVDs, etc) We're already seeing the problems web sites are having with being advertiser driven. The only thing stopping people from doing that with TV was that it was difficult. Now PVRs make it really easy. It'l be interesting to see how it works out.
  • Is it any surprise that a large corporation uses your demographic info to target ads, make money, etc?

    I do not agree with it, but it is so present in our (american) society, most people don't even care anymore.

    But there is a way we can fight back.

    Have as many people as possible use your grocery card, TiVO, pet club card, and whatnot. Give them such a random sampling of as many people as possible, give them fake info when you sign up for thier incentives. It may not do much, but tell your friends, have them tell thier friends.

    Eventually they will be getting so much bad data, they may just quit.

  • by samael ( 12612 ) <> on Monday March 26, 2001 @08:16AM (#339705) Homepage
    How does this hurt me? Nobody got my name. Nobody got my phone number. I lost nothing. My privacy wasn't even invaded, because all they know is that some people like watching certain shows in certain proportions.

    I really don't see the problem. I want them to know what shows I watch. That way they might make more of them.
  • Ironic, I often times will put my home address (temporary living address) along with a revision of my name so I can tell who is sending me what (like J.S. instead of my full first and middle name)

    I put my address down, if it's a site I'm actually interested in seeing because there is garbage can right next to my mail box -- I could care less about receiving the junk.

    Since I have moved into this apartment (last August) I have probably registered at 20-25 places and the only snail mail response I got from any of them was from LinuxWorld Expo.

    I think a lot of people (not saying you) are really blowing the privacy concerns out of proportion. Why is it such an invasion of privacy that some company knows what sites you look at? Guess what, so does your ISP it doesn't make them the devil.

  • And tell me how is this supposed to make your television viewing better, huh? This will just result in TV program being adjusted to the lowest common denominator (not that it's not already) and quality programs that are targeted at a bit more discerning viewers will disappear altogether.

    Well, for one thing it will help networks determine the viewing habits of people who timeshift TV. Neilsen can't do that reliably (only with the diaries). What does that mean in practice? It means that people who actually are discerning viewers will get more weight in the process, and quality shows will look better than just the crap that happens to be on after Friends this month.

    I own 2 TiVos. God knows I can't make any money selling my viewing info (who the hell cares what I watch on TV, anyway?), but if TiVo can do it by aggregating my data with that of a quarter million other people, more power to them!
  • 1-877-FOR-TIVO. Same number as it says in the manual. Call up and request to opt-out.
  • It is not said what the extra space is set aside for, however, it is not "stolen" from you, it's more like a side effect of changes to the software in 2.0.

    And I doubt it's for "targeted ads" as that seems a bit silly.

  • It's a stalemate situation. As long as Tivo does nothing to piss off its customers, then there is no reason to hack the thing to the point where you screw with Tivo's revenue stream. We like Tivo, the company. They are cool. They have a fairly good grasp of "the right way" to do things. They also know damn well how easy it would be for someone to hack a unit to not require service, and so they walk the thin line.

    I'm satisied with the arrangement. It keeps them honest. :D

  • I knew when I got a plus card that I was basically being paid for my demographic data. It's a bit different around here though..

    Every item in the store has two prices. One with the card, one without. The one with the card is generally anywhere from 20% to 50% lower than the one without.

    So I go in, buy $50 worth of stuff, swipe the card, and watch it turn to $30. And the prices without the card are comparable to other local stores, so you really are getting a discount.

    What do they get in return for this? It's obvious, they track everything I buy. I don't mind this, I knew that would happen when I signed up. The signup form was pretty much inclusive: name, address, income, number of people in household, what kind of car I drive, the whole nine yards. It was blatently obvious what the scheme was for. Not only that, but the card they give you has a sticker on it that you peel off and put on the form itself. The numbers match. Thus the tracking becomes very, very simple.

    Anyone who didn't see that when they signed up is a complete moron. I saw it, and I signed up anyway, because frankly I don't care if they know what I eat. I don't even care if they sell the information. I'm satisfied with the discount I receive.

    What's the most that could happen from them selling the info? More junk mail? Good, more fuel for the fire. More phone calls? Sorry, I dropped my phone line because I found I didn't actually use it anymore, what with my cell phone (and I don't give that number out easily). Targeted ads? Good, maybe they'll advertise something I actually want to buy. I doubt it, but it's a possibility. The fact is that I can think of nothing they can do with that personal buying info that will affect me adversely. So I say, go for it.

  • Thumb's up and down also aren't sent anywhere, I think that is covered on page 70 :-) so it only knows what you watched, not how much you claim to like it.

    Thumbs *can* be sent, actually. The software provides for that. However, they are not actually sent, and this relates to my next reply:

    There is talk of an opt-in service for that, but I think that is all TiVo users talking, not TiVo itself. Similarly web control of the TiVo would break the privacy policy, which is a big part of why they don't have it (and ReplayTV does).

    The privacy policy actually allows for an opt-in to send your private viewing data. It's assumed this is for future services like a web interface or some such. Especially the bit about "this may limit the services we can offer to you". So if they ever do make a web service, you'd have to sign up for it and give them permission to get your personal data for the service.

  • I can dream up half a dozen opt-in services, but that doesn't mean TiVo is working on any of them.

    This is true, but I was trying to point out that the opt-in would not be included in the Privacy Policy for no reason. Either they are working on it, or are doing some good thinking ahead. Either way, they are thinking ahead to the extent of adding the ability to the software.

  • I found out exactly what the unit sent with a serial null modem cable and my existing laptop.

    The thing does run Linux, you know. You can just open it up and have a look. Most of the system is done with TCL scripts. The dialup uses a normal pppd. Nothing funny going on about it.

  • Simple. You look at it before it encrypts it.

    One of the reasons that was said was because in the Privacy foundation's notes on this, they mentioned that the data was not encrypted and could be snooped on or something to that effect. The Privacy Foundation also made note that Tivo said it was encrypted in 2.0.

    Actually, it encrypts it in the dialup phase. If you have a Tivo with 2.0, watch the lights on the front while it's dialing. When they blink a lot, that's the Tivo accessing the crypto chip to encrypt the data. They use the Blowfish algorithim, I believe.

  • by Scutter ( 18425 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @08:15AM (#339725) Journal
    We (the TiVo using community) knew they were collecting anonymous information. What did you *think* they were going to use it for? TiVo has also gone out of their way to make sure you can opt out as well.

    If it makes my television viewing better, then I'm all for *anonymous* tracking.

  • by flimflam ( 21332 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @11:40AM (#339727) Homepage
    And interestingly enough, his first two (out of three) points are:

    According to our findings, TiVo:

    gathers enough information to track individual users' home viewing habits while apparently promising not to do so;

    could identify the personal viewing habits of subscribers at will;

    That's not what you said before. Well, actually it is what you said before, but with different interpretation, perhaps.

  • They should just have an opt-in bonus where you get the listing service for free if you allow them to sell your viewing habits to advertisers, or collect it for ratings. Who gives a shit if they can target you better for ads, you have a Tivo, which means you can just skip all the commercials.

    If you opt-out, you pay the $10/month fee or whatever it is.

  • Seriously... think about it. Tivo has the potential to be come as (or more) influential than Nielson ratings- ie, what their data says could determine what is programmed.

    Which means that if all "geeks" (replace with demographic term of your choice) opt out, "geek" viewing choices will not be reflected in the data, and "geek" programming will become less financially attractive to networks (because they think nobody's watching it).
  • by GregWebb ( 26123 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @10:52AM (#339734)

    That looks backwards to me, Bob.

    If they can push fine-grained data on who views what (and this has to be the best way to get it) from a group who care enough about TV, probably fringe, to buy a TiVo, then they would seem likely to INCREASE support for marginal TV.

    Firstly, you can see that people are watching these programs. Secondly, you can see that they're watching linked groups. Thirdly, you may well be able to see _how_ they're viewing it - say timeshifting from the night before, for example.

    Whereas with traditional ratings info you can't really see much more than the rough popularity of the top programs. More than that is a problem, simply as you can't get the _precision_. You might be able to identify with some certainty that a program had tens of thousands of viewers, but that's still pretty lucky. Hundreds of thousands and you're getting safer. Think about sample sets here.

    OK, so identifying that a program was only watched by 40,000 people might not be fantastic - BUT it's an improvement on knowing that less than 250,000 watched it, especially in combination with the other information. Also, remember that people are commisioning this show in the knowledge that almost no-one will watch it. If you can confirm that slightly more than no-one watches it with some likelihood, you boost the chances for that sort of program.

    What makes me think TiVos are probably bought by people on the fringes of normal TV viewing? Think about it. If you only watch soaps and gameshows, what's the benefit? Soaps are on very regularly, often with weekly omnibus editions. And missing one isn't the end of the world. And gameshows, well, really don't matter much from week to wek plus there's a lot which are really pretty similar.

    Using me as an example, though, a device to make sure I never miss American Gothic, B5 or The Outer Limits - all shown late or in intermittent slots at various points, all on the margins of the viewer figures - would be a big attraction as it's not anywhere near as easy to keep up with them and it would be useful to be able to guarantee I could keep up, no matter what they did with the schedules. It makes far more sense for me than the stereotypical soap viewer.
  • by GregWebb ( 26123 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @02:43PM (#339735)
    My point on the granularity was simply that, when coarse-grained data is collected on pretty much anything, it underrepresents the margins. In these terms, the current system underrates a large chunk of what Slashdot's users seems to like. You may well want some of the near zero audience shows (as do I) but this can't really harm them, as it allows them to be represented at all. When you're sampling 1000 to extrapolate the results onto 200 million, they _WILL_ get missed. Also, the more you can find out about their audiences, the better you can target the marketing and trailing they run. Better targetted marketing will produce higher ad revenues (good) while better trailing increases the chance of people actually coming across these shows, as thet can stick the trailers in the right places. Both help the long-term survival of the shows.

    My point about usage patterns wasn't meant to be referring to its 1337ness or similar, actually. Simply that it's of far more use to people who tend to watch marginal interest shows. Not just SF and fantasty - if you really, really like old westerns, for example, this'll search them out on the schedules so not only increase their viewing figures but actually make them measurable. Or if I'm a fan of original short films - shown periodically in the small hours, I'd have to really watch out without a TiVo or similar. It can benefit pretty much any TV viewer, but its benefit seems greatest to viewers of marginal interest shows - such as SF, Fantasy, Horror and Anime.

    This can be of huge benefit to the marginal interest shows, and help their viability no end. Which, even if only a little, takes money away from another Temptation Island or generic soap. Part of why they're so successful is that they're an easy brand - they're clear, solid and large so no problems to sell to the ad people. It's a no-brainer to advertise on them, so the networks like them, so they push them and create more - which gets circular and only really leads to dumbing down. Now - and I admit this is optimistic - if you can demonstrate that a package of 15 cult shows has just as strong demographics when taken as a package, but has half the ad cost, where does the money go? That isn't viable without this sort of fine-grained data, but can be with it.

    Sadly, as has been pointed out before, TiVo etc largely cripple the conventional advertising funded TV concept... Bit irritating that the one thing which could save it from its excesses and return it to quality should be the thing which kills it. Oh well, good old UK and BBC :)

    I admit I haven't heard of the Mosaic project though I'd be interested to see. If that's the result, though, I'd have to say it was spectacularly poorly executed. That's dreadful surveying, misuse of statistics and some pretty poor retailing, too.

    Speaking from firsthand experience it's not sensible. I live near a relatively large council-style estate (no idea on management) and sometimes use its convenience stores. They have a massive product range and seem to have a pretty good stockturn. Judging from their numbers and condition I'd have to say they're doing excellent business.
  • Major TV networks make their money on commercials. Yes, it's good that more people watch their shows.

    But what good does it do them if the people can just skip over all the commercials they have lined up in 5 seconds?

    Gonzo Granzeau

  • How does this hurt me? Nobody got my name. Nobody got my phone number...
    You know that phone line you have plugged into your Tivo?

    Do you have caller id blocked?

    I'm not saying they would do it, but the potential is there to correlate your phone number and your viewing preferences.

  • Not to mention that the setup menus include an opt-out option as well (though, I'm not clear on what happens to the data they've already collected if you use this method).

    The thing is you don't want to opt out. There's no junk mail you get because of it (though the junk mail your neighborhood gets might change slightly); you never get calls because of it and best of all, no one can tell you watch smut-o-vision ;-)

    The benefits on the other hand: better selection of "recommended shows" based on what you thumbs-up and down; accurate ratings data goes to the networks; and your cable company can tell what new stations are worth keeping (where before, they only had wide regional statistics to go on, TiVo can tell them how many of their subscribers watch the channel).
  • The question we don't know the answer to is: What are they doing with the money from selling the viewing data? If selling the data keeps the cost of the service down, then it's probably still a good thing (providing that all other statements about it being anonymous, etc are true). If selling the data allows them to develop Newer and Kewler software without making me have to pay for the upgrade, then it's probably a good thing.

    Keep in mind that above all else, Tivo, and any other for-profit company exists for one main reason: To Make Money. If you think that any company that has the ability to gather stats and data that can generate money isn't likely to sell that data at some point, then you're fooling yourself. Perhaps not every company *will* sell the data, but I can guarantee that the thought crosses all of their minds. I knew this when I bought the Tivo service 2 years ago, and it's a risk I accept.

    I'd be more concerned if they were selling data that is *personal*, ie: what shows I specifically record, how/when I watch TV, how long I pause when surfing on the Nudie Channels, etc. But even that is a possibility. Bottom line, vote with your wallet, and let them know how/why you "voted". It's good to discuss these things on /., but if your tirade ends here, you've only wasted your time.

  • By modifying the software to keep you from fast forwarding through commercials (and probably taking a cut from the corps as well for supplying this "service").

    This "upgrade" will probably also come with a "feature" to disallow you from dumping TV shows from the TV to your VCR (ahem; CRM - pesky fair use laws, damn Constitution)...

    Worldcom [] - Generation Duh!
  • When I am linking to a post about about the tivo stuff? You smoking crack again?

  • ... you just provided information, your opinion, for free.
  • According to the article on MSNBC concerning this, TiVo claims that there is an 800# subscribers can call to have all data, even anonymous data, removed from their database and have no further data taken. Anyone know what this # is?

  • what annoys me about tivo is not that they are agregating and selling viewer information, but that they make you pay for the priviledge - $10 per month or $120 per year

    Uh, no. If you think that's all you're paying for, unplug your Tivo from the phone line and keep it that way for four weeks. No need to come back and tell me what happened, I already know.

    </sarcasm> Seriously, though, where do you think the thing gets its TV listings from? Not only does it cost them money to keep track of that data, but I doubt UUNet lets TiVo have free use of their national dialups.


  • Have you ever seen a slippery slope? I have...

    It was about 25 feet or so in diameter, and maybe 10-15 feet deep. It was funnel shaped because the bottom was a mineshaft going straight down. The sides were loose sand, and it was pretty obvious that anyone who got in the sandy sides would soon be at the bottom, and down the mineshaft...

    Back to your point - your logic is flawed. You have collected several samples, placed them into a group, then assert that any other members of that group must share the same attributes. In crude terms, "guilt by association". Since you use the word "all", I only have to find a single contradictory example to prove your assertion wrong.

    Please don't shoot me
    Nah. I gave that up when they passed the law against exploding bullets.
  • I'm not a TiVo owner, but a friend of mine is. I believe he said one of the selling points for him was that it allowed you to edit out your commercial content.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but if TiVo allows you to skip advertising, then selling your consumer data without your name makes it dificult for advertisers to reach you. Yes, they can still phone you but, you can always get your phone *77ed (anonymous caller reject - stops about 70% of it). I guess junk snail-mail would still be a bit of a problem.
  • by Controlio ( 78666 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @08:31AM (#339760)
    This information is not secret, and in fact is well documented. It is even freely discussed in the AVS TiVo Forums. As a matter of fact, here is exactly what is sent out to TiVo headquarters, as reported by moderator Otto:

    For the record, the Tivo sends back two files.

    The first one is a debug logfile for the software. It contains the serial number, a bunch of good identifying info, but no viewing data or remote keypresses or anything like that.

    The second file contains *only* viewing info and remote keypresses. It is time-stamped, but it has no serial number.

    They are both sent back to an FTP server (in 1.3) or an HTTP server (in 2.0). The command to send them back in 2.0 includes the serial in the debug file send request, but not in the anonymous viewing data request. While it would be possible to sync them via http logfiles, it's not worth the trouble.

    Face it, your individual viewing data is WORTHLESS. You're just not that important of a person. Viewing data is only worthwhile as an aggregate, despite what everyone seems to think.

    Your viewing data combined with 150,000 other people's viewing data, sorted by region (zipcode is included), might have some value to it after all. Nobody cares that you watch ER, but they might care that Everybody in your zipcode watches ER. Or that everybody in your zipcode doesn't watch ER. They might try to increase advertising in that region because it does so poorly there. Or some other such thing. This is not an invasion of your privacy.


    One more thing, while the data was sent unencrypted in 1.3, it definitely is encrypted in 2.0. Ever notice that the lights on the front of the tivo blink a few times just before the call? That's the Tivo accessing the crypto chip to encrypt the anonymous information and the debugging log.

    So you need not worry about the dark black circle in the middle of your TiVo glowing red or the machine referring to you as "Dave". It's all just anonymous viewing data harvested by area, and has no ties with you whatsoever. For more info on this sort of thing, go do a search over at the AVS TiVo Forum [].

    Oh yeah, and STOP BEING SO PARANOID!!! :)
  • by AugstWest ( 79042 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @10:10AM (#339761)
    Obviously, TV is all about advertising, and not all advertisers are targeting the lowest common denominator. Often these days you can tell what kind of show, or even exactly which show, will be coming on after the commercials judging by the commercials themselves.

    Luxury car companies aren't after the lowest common denominator. Software companies aren't after the LCD either. If certain shows can give better information about their viewing audience, then they'll have a better chance of survival.

    Look at Seinfeld -- the first couple of seasons noone watched, and it would have been cancelled except for one reason -- its target market was *exactly* what the advertisers in that timeslot were after.

    Of course, I don't fully understand why any of this info is really relevant when it comes to Tivo... Basically, if you've got Tivo, why would you watch the ads?
  • TiVo recorders, EasyPass electronic toll
    collectors, Digital cable, free web mail,
    supermarket discount cards, credit cards,
    etc. all have something in common:

    Trading privacy for convenience or money.

    Very often, it's a bad trade for the
    individual citizen. Very often, the citizen
    is completely oblivious to this.

    What I don't understand is this: I was
    taught in school that America, the land of
    the free, is defined by a populace that
    wanted freedom and privacy. Yet, with the
    general willingness of the people to toss
    their privacy without a thought and subject
    themselves to the tyranny of utterly random
    drug and sex laws, it would appear that our
    country has quite a distorted self image.

  • by Hollins ( 83264 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @08:24AM (#339764) Homepage
    This sounds like a bunch of chicken little nonsense by an organization looking to leverage TiVo's popularity for some publicity.

    I own a TiVo and the documentation and onscreen setup information made clear from the start that aggregate info will be released to outside parties unless you opt-out. In the article, The Privacy Foundation takes issue with the statement that "no one outside your home, not even the TiVo staff or any of TiVo's computer systems, will ever have access to any of your personal viewing information without your prior consent. Your preferences are personal." This is completely true. I am a twenty eight year old male and my viewing habits are only being used to make generalizations about people in my demographic.

    I have real concerns about the way corporations are treating privacy, especially when they exchange information without consent, but TiVo has behaved admirably with respect to this issue, and I have been very satisfied with their service.
  • What did you all expect? Whenever you pay for a service and give anybody information about you, they are going to collect that information. I can't believe that people would be astonished by this being made public.

    Companies have a business to run; collecting our information is part of that business. How do you expect a company to be competitive if they cannot know exactly who is using their products and when those products are being used?

    People are going to be outraged by this "invasion of privacy". I just see it as smart business, plain and simple.

    That's just the way it is

  • Have you ever used a TiVo?

    A VCR isn't even close, much less 'far better'.

    Have you ever set up your VCR to record a show, started watching that show 20 minutes into it and fast forwarded through the commercials, finishing the show at the top of the hour? Watching the first part of a recorded show while the last part is still recording is just one way that makes TiVo better than a VCR (among many others).

    One of the problems with TiVo is that it does so much, that it's hard to describe. Initially, it just comes across as a fancy VCR. You have to really look at all of the features to get a good idea of how it changes TV.

    I can't count the number of people who have thanked me for turning them on to TiVo. They always seem amazed that it took them that long to try it out in the first place. Don't dismiss it as an inferior VCR. Try it. If you don't like it, take it back.

    BTW, When's the last time you used a calculator or a spreadsheet? Wouldn't doing those calculations by hand make you "think" and thus be far better?
  • Pardon my ignorance, but what exactly is TiVo? I went to their site and read up on it, but it seemed to be marketing speak rather than just telling me what the hell it does. It looks like it records shows digitally. If that's the case, how would it send information back to the company? My VCR doesn't do that.
  • Slippery slope to what? This is different to selling info about things that matter, its just what tv you watch, isnt it?

    The problem comes when people can search through the data. Say that you watch a pornographic movie. Now I know this is purely hypothetical since no one on /. would do something like that :) Now say your boss or prospective employer manages to get this information in some sort of standard report, presents it to you and points out the morals clause in your employment contract.

    It isn't such a small detail now, is it?

    Or think of an even more stupid senario: Think of the most conservative, narrow-minded person you know. Now think of the silliest, stupidest show you really enjoy (we all have one or a dozen of those). now imagine that the narrowminded one is using your viewing data to make a decision about you (job, loan, college, whatever). Do you still feel comfortable?
  • by Keelor ( 95571 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @08:54AM (#339777)
    It depends if you consider the following data "personally identifying information."

    Anonymous Coward turns on his TV around 5:15 every weekday evening. He then watches the cooking channel for about 45 minutes, then turns his TV off.
    On Tuesday, he watches ABC religiously from 6 to 9 PM.
    Also, he watches the Cartoon Network every Sunday morning from 3 AM to 4 AM.
    (add a few more tidbits, possibly some demographic information such as age and gender to clinch it).

    Now, I realize that this information is still not linked to your name, but when you consider that various companies (*cough* DoubleClick *cough*) probably have enough information on you to know many of your habits already, it wouldn't be terribly hard to say that down the road, that information could be linked to "real" personal information, such as your name.


  • >"I wouldn't mind getting the service for a discount if I consented to my viewing habits being sold, or for free if they actually attached my name to it."

    Since Tivo is not making a profit (and is well under water, except for the AOL bail-out), you can assume that all Tivo users are currently "getting the service at a discount".

  • Face it, your individual viewing data is WORTHLESS. You're just not that important of a person.

    I disagree. Suppose I claimed "Your doubleclick cookies are worthless". This is true, provided there's no way to aggregate them further, but becomes very suspect information once there's a way to aggregate them further.

    Suppose the TiVo starts collecting data about narrow-target pay-per-view cable channels that I subscribe to ? Mining the data that many late-night subscribers to "Dwarves in Very Large Boots" are also watching the religious guilt flagellation show at family prime time is exactly the sort of data synthesis that raises issues here.

    What happens with an expansion of interactive TV a few years hence (as is very likely here in the UK) ? It's almost certain that TiVo's here will soon be in a position to see that I watch the interactive home shopping channels for hours a day, and which items I watched the most, and that I watch the all-state tractor pulls on the sport channel. The extra opportunities for not only synthesis, but for identifying me from my purchases are very close to the problems with DoubleClick (the ability to dis-anonymise many sites as soon as they've tracked me on a single non-anonymous one).

    I trust TiVo (meaning literally what it says - I believe their honesty and intention to not sell the data). I have no problem with what TiVo have done. OTOH, I will remain receptive to news of them changing policy (Toysmart ?) and I'm certainly suspicious in the general case of other companies with similar tech.

  • So i JUST got an e-mail from my professor, and he wrote up his experiences with the TiVo check it out right here [] check it out.
  • My professor works for a privacy center [] at my school and one of the things he has looked into was a tivo. In my security class he explained to us how he went about figuring out what kind of information the tivo uploaded to it's servers. The thing calls home in the early morning and usualy transfers about 5 megs of data. He ended up setting up around $500 worth of equipment to get this stuff to work. The tivo was setup so that it's outgoing phone system was hooked up to his laptop, in one modem, and in another modem his laptop was hooked up to the phone jack. With a couple more peices of equipment and some simple programming he did a man-in-the-middle attack with the connection. When the tivo dialed it's home server the laptop listened to the number and then built a PPP connection to the server using the other modem. As the traffic flowed through each of the connections it was logged in a file. Afterwards, with a few unix tools, we converted the PPP data into tcp output, then the TCP output into raw data with time logs. As it turns out the tivo really does send *anonymous* data. In their privacy statement they say that they seperate your "personally identifiable data" from the "anonymous" data. The logs just showed when you changed the channel and when you started and stopped recording. The system also checked for updates for it's system, and downloaded a channel listing. However, it did tell the server it's serial number, and the ISP it used to login to the server was a local one. So if they REALLY needed to i bet they could track you down and match your records to your viewing habits. But really people, they are telling the truth they don't track you.
  • OK, now why does this bother me? Because I'm not getting compensated for this! Heck, if these advertising companies wanted my viewing habits (down to my favorite show, PBR), they should compensate me for this.

    Actually, you are being compensated in not one, but two ways.
    1. $9.95/mo is really cheap for this type of service.. without the data being collected, I could imagine it costing a LOT more.
    2. Better advertising and show selections. Some day you will not have to sit through tampon commercials during Battle Bots!
  • by Dman33 ( 110217 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @09:12AM (#339796)
    They will notice that for every hour of Sopranos and NHL hockey that I watch there is 5 hours of Dawson's Creek, Sex and the City, and ER.

    Yup, this anonymous tivo user is remote-whipped. :)
  • Another good one: Many companies provide two lines for the street address. You can use one of these to record the name of the company (I put it in brackets). Since in most cases, no human being processes entered addresses at any stage, it goes straight through. e.g.

    Xavier Exinstein 1122 Imaginary Road (Cornucopia Ltd order) Any Town Statename, 12345

    Also, because of the way my ISP works, I get a hostname and any number of e-mail addresses I want. So I could have Makes it encredibly easy to ignore all the spam that comes in from having my e-mail visible on slashdot.

    Rich (Apologies to any real "cornucopia" company out there

  • Xavier Exinstein
    1122 Imaginary Road
    (Cornucopia Ltd order)
    Any Town
    Statename, 12345


  • No, we have counties and postcodes. But both sides of the Atlantic have POP3.


  • logs ... temperature

    Yes! We can use this to enforce the California Emergency Energy Conservation Regulations. [] If your thermostat is set too low during a peak air conditioning load period, you're in trouble now.

  • This is [] TiVo's privacy policy, including opt out procedures.
  • by Therlin ( 126989 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @08:18AM (#339811)
    I thought the user's manual clearly states that this information is collected anonymously and then gives opt out procedures.

    Besides, I don't have anything against being able to tell the networks which shows suck and which ones are good.
  • In order for this to be effective, wouldn't they have to attach a random ID to your TiVo??? Doesn't this make this as bad as the PIII serial number, if not worse? If I'm completely wrong, could you please enlighten me on exactly how this "anonymous" info usage is collected?
  • Hey, here's a question: if the DoubleClick (or TIVO, whatever) data is actually *worth* something -- in whatever currency you choose to define -- how come DoubleClick is on the verge of bankruptcy? (At least according to which, yes, is not the most reliable source).

    My point here being this: that if all this data -- the TIVO data and web data in general -- is so valuable: why can't companies who use it actually stay afloat?

    I mean, why don't we see this data manifest itself into something tangible? (Maybe the data is manifesting itself, but because I have (admittedly) fairly nearly tunnel-vision -- maybe I can't see it. Fair enough. But has anyone done a study to actually demonstrate that, yes, data *is* worth something?)

    Don't get me wrong. Privacy is very important. My quibble isn't with privacy.

    My quibble is with the assumption that this data that we're gathering is, according to all these privacy web "foundations" is actually worth something? What is it worth? Can anyone measure it? Can anyone prove that my "click habits" can actually be aggregated into some hard currency used to fund the coffers of corporations?

    Ultimately, where does this data end up? I mean, is the end result some e-mail database used by spammers to carpet-bomb email recipients with "re: The Information You Requested" emails?

    I'm starting to wonder about this. Katz, are you listening? How about an editorial on the "real" worth of web data.

    Where's the worth? The value? Is it valuable because we assume its valuable? Is this data actually charting the course for new technology? Or is just an asset -- much like the espresso machine in the break room or the foosball table in the seldom used 'rec room' -- that exists only on paper and has 'value' only when these companies hit the crapper?

    That's the real issue: someone -- this damn privacy corporation, for example -- needs to assess the "value" of this shit before they go off and send their short press releases to every news media outlet about the *danger* of something.

    Don't you need to define the actual value -- cultural value, economic value, whatever -- before you start decrying the collection practices of accumulating all this data? Does the collection itself contribute to the danger? (Yes, I suppose it does, and that's what has the privacy advocates worried. But there's another step -- and that's the *use* of the data. And then there's yet one more step: whether or not the use actually enhances the value.)

  • by StoryMan ( 130421 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @08:29AM (#339816)
    Well, here's a newsflash: it's not surprising because TIVO has said for the past two years that they've been doing this.

    It's no mystery, never has been a mystery, and is only a mystery to those odd privacy foundation folks who -- after two years of TIVO -- suddenly cracked open their TIVO manual and read that, yes indeed, TIVO collects and aggregates usage statistics.

    I love it when "foundations" underwrite studies in order to garner publicity. Their so-called "studies" -- or press releases, whatever you want to call them -- always ride the crest of this week's current "hysterical trend."

    The question we should be asking -- and no, I haven't checked their web page yet -- is who, exactly, is this foundation? What corporation has them in their pocket? (They wouldn't be involved with Microsoft, would they? I mean, MS would love to indirectly spread TIVO FUD -- indirectly, you'll notice I say -- because their oft-delayed Ultimate TV will very shortly make its way into pipelines.)

    Maybe they aren't affiliated with MS at all, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit. Likewise, it wouldn't surprise me if this place gets funding from the core foundations of the American "right" -- the NRA, the various Christian fundamentalist groups, or whatever non-profit "moral authority" is the flavor of the day.

    ("Hey, video games are what causes the school shootings! And, TIVO, by god, it's on a video screen -- and it sorta plays like a game -- so you bet, we don't like TIVO either. It's just proof that the private button presses of our gun-carrying members are used to further the left's 'liberal' agenda!" "MegaDittos, Rush! MegaDitto's to you from Spokane!" "MegaDittos from Newport News! MetaDittos from New Mexico!" "All hail Mom, Apple Pie, shotguns, and Rush Limbaugh! Because, as you know, this country was founded on freedom: the freedom to carry guns, blow shit up, and read the bible!")
  • by StoryMan ( 130421 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @10:03AM (#339817)
    Aha! Here's the link: Peter Barton, head of this wonky privacy foundation, was the former head of Liberty Media in which *GemStar* had a 21% stake. (Liberty Media also has their hands on a multitude of cable channels most of which, I'd bet, would *love* to see TIVO take a crash dive.) But Gemstar: that's the kicker. Gemstar, you'll remember, claimed that they have the patents on *all* onscreen guides and for the past few years has sued nearly everyone who implemented an "on-screen" guide in one form or another. They have a long-running suit with TIVO which does not look it will be settled quietly. All you patent-busters: GEMSTAR ought to be a target on the radar.)

    Anyway, here's the link (as provided by one of the stories below):,1151, 18919,00.html []

    And here's the link to Liberty Media:,206 3,51395,00.html []

    And, yes, I see that Barton's foundation "shills for no corporate interest," but if you believe that, I've got a bridge I'll sell ya, real cheap. It's not possible these days to claim that you "shill for no corporate interest." Take away the corporations and what's left? Well, America's Christian right, of course. :) (LOL -- just kidding. Well, not really. The fundamentalists are as manipulative as the corporate stooges.)

    Now, maybe Barton is really good guy and grew to, ya know (wink wink), "despise the role of corporations in the current media" and that's why he "had to go it alone and start up the privacy foundation." (I'm making these quotes up, but they sound like something a former corporate talking head might say in order to funnel donations and startup capital into his new -- and, of course! -- morally "just" enterprise. "Dammit, Jim, privacy is key! All our children will be destroyed! I must do something about it! I must take my, er, platinum parachute from this evil corporation and, um, do something for the common good! Now, um, where is that common good? Who do I talk to?")

    I'm no journalist. Just an angry critic of media -- and corporate -- manipulation.

  • From

    Audience Measurement

    The measurement service provides television audience data on a minute by minute basis for channels received within the UK. These data are available for reporting nationally as well as at the ITV and BBC regional level.
    Viewing estimates are obtained from panels of television owning households representing the viewing behaviour of the 23+ million households within the UK. The panels are selected to be representative of each ITV and BBC region, and collectively provide a network sample of 4,485 households.
    Panel homes are selected via a multi-stage stratified and unclustered sample design. This ensures that the panel is fully representative of households across the whole of the UK. Each panel is maintained against a range of individual and household characteristics (panel controls). As the estimates for the large majority of the panel controls are not available from Census data it is necessary to conduct surveys (Establishment Survey) to obtain this information.
    The Establishment Survey is a random probability survey carried out on a continuous basis and involving some 40,000 interviews per year. The nature of this survey ensures that any changes within the characteristics of the population can be identified. Panel controls can therefore be up-dated and panel household representation adjusted to ensure representativeness is maintained. In addition to being the prime source of television population information, the Establishment Survey also generates a pool of potential recruits from which panel member homes are recruited.
    Each of the 4,485 panel member households have all their television receiving equipment (sets, video cassette recorders, set-top box decoders etc.) electronically monitored by a 'peoplemeter' monitoring system. This system automatically identifies and records the channel to which each television set is tuned when switched on and all viewing involving a VCR (recording, playback, viewing through the VCR etc.). In addition the metering system incorporates the capability to 'fingerprint' videotapes during recording sessions and to subsequently identify such recorded material when played back (time-shifted viewing).
    All permanent household residents and guests declare their presence in a room whilst a television set is on by pressing an allocated button on a handset. The metering system monitors all registrations made by each individual.
    Throughout each day the meter system stores all the viewing undertaken by the entire household. Each night the panel household is contacted by the processing centre by telephone to collect the stored data. This procedure is carried out on every home each day to produce 'overnight' television viewing data.

  • If the TiVo can track the usage of a given machine with regard to
    commercial viewing; that in itself would be of great value for
    advertisers. IF the TiVo service can link the commercials segments
    that you (and other viewers) don't skip, with the actual commercials
    that were shown at that time.

    I can imagine them going to the ad agencies:

    The commercial of the giant Penquin crushing the Redmond campus was
    not very well recieved. But, people liked watching the cute little Penquin hangliding,
    rockclimbing, and drinking freebeer, almost as much as the shows they originally
    captured for viewing.

  • I read in the previous slashdot link that the 'stolen' hours that happens when you get upgraded to 2.0 software is used for targeted ads.

    anyone know if this is pure speculation or if its true?

    I love my tivo, but I will NOT give up disk space for ads. no way. if I find this is true, I'll probably cancel my subscription and go do an opensource linux version on a regular pc.

    I assumed the stolen disk space was used for buffering YOUR chosen data. anyone really know for sure?


  • moderators: how on earth can you mark my base post a TROLL??

    I am not trolling; I asked an honest (and very important question) about the tivo. I own one and when I got upgraded to 2.0, I lost the infamous 12hours (went from 117 down to 105 hours).

    the base topic was about selling information about users and its conceivable that some space they took from each person's hard drive could be used to buffer non-program material; possibly ads.

    so how does this qualify as offtopic or troll?

    get a fucking clue, will ya? learn what IS and is NOT a troll before modding someone down. sheesh.


  • by Eloquence ( 144160 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @09:42AM (#339823)
    .. how some good PR and a good product can turn some of the most privacy-sensitive people in the world into gullible idiots. It's the same effect that causes smokers to argue that smoking doesn't cause cancer. TiVo explicitly states in their privacy policy that

    any information that may be considered "personal," such as the recorder's serial number, is severed from anonymous data such as your recorder's diagnostics,
    once it arrives at TiVo.


    The insinuation that TiVo "could" correlate both sets of information is inflammatory and contradicts TiVo's actual practices.

    They know what buttons you press, they now which shows you watch. They can even statistically correlate when you're in the house and when you aren't. The broader the spectrum of TV channels you can receive, the more sense it makes to correlate this information to your identity.

    You just have to trust TiVo, a corporation like any other, that they won't send this data to spammers & junk mailers including your identity -- a risk which is especially big if they go bankrupt, which will probably the case one day.

    You have to trust them that they don't tell your boss that you watch softporn or an unreasonable amount of children's TV ("pedophile!"). You have to trust them that they don't tell your insurance company that you watch a lot of health information, especially about heart risks. You have to trust them that they don't tell the gov't that you watch only political documentaries and are especially interested in JFK.

    Go on, trust TiVo. They're you friends. (Or at least they've got a good PR department that makes you think so.) Everyone else is just a conspiracy theorist and a fanatic.

    While you're at it, enable the viewer reporting information in Real Player. Install Comet Cursor. Get webHancer. Get Aureate. Get Cydoor. All these advertisers just want to improve your web experience. And if you ask, they'll certainly tell you that they store all identifying information separately from everything else and would never correlate them together. What are you waiting for? This data is completely WORTHLESS, after all, right?


  • by f5426 ( 144654 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @08:40AM (#339825)
    It probably means that they need to do a SQL join to associate viewing habits to a particular customer.


  • by djrogers ( 153854 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @09:26AM (#339828)
    First of all, this is pure speculation, TiVo had said publicly that they will NOT be doing this - the space is for Video On Demand PPV stuff. Imagine your TiVo knows you love Natalie Portman movies, well the next time one is available on PPV, TiVo will store it for you (locked up) and allow you to watch it on demand for a fee. It's basically time-shifted PPV movies.
    Second, there is no 'stolen' disk space... All TiVos have space reserved on them from the factory, the higher the capacity of the machine, the more space there is. The only change is that with the 2.0 upgrade, people who hacked their TiVos had their reserve space adjusted to reflect the higher capacity of the box. Considering that TiVo has been very tolerant (even helpful at times) of people hacking their boxes, and this only happens to hacked boxes, and TiVo has been warning people about this for ages, I would find it very hard to use a strong term like 'stolen'.
  • TiVo is legally correct when they say that they are not selling any private data. They are not. The files that get uploaded from your TiVo every night do not contain any identifying information (I'm talking about the files that monitor the remote keypresses, etc.).
    But there is a catch here. TiVo uses UUNET dialup access to upload their files. If I were an advertising company, I would head straight to UUNET and get their caller-ID logs. Remember, UUNET has not given any privacy assurances, and neither has TiVo said anything about third parties (in this case, the advertisers and UUNET) being bound by their "privacy guarantee".
    OK, now why does this bother me? Because I'm not getting compensated for this! Heck, if these advertising companies wanted my viewing habits (down to my favorite show, PBR), they should compensate me for this. Otherwise, I'm not willing to part with this information!
  • by Oliver Wendell Jones ( 158103 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @10:13AM (#339833)
    And anyone who thinks that companies aren't pooling their data and cross-checking it needs to reconsider.

    Whenever I have to fill out a web form and I don't want to use my real info, I use "Dr. Nick Riviera", "123 Main St", "Anytown, IA".

    I have received at least 20 pieces of junk snail-mail addressed to Dr. Nick Riviera at my home address, which I should point out is not "123 Main St", and I don't live in "Anytown, IA".

  • by Golias ( 176380 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @08:50AM (#339850)
    Actually, if there is any demand at all for niche programming, the data will reflect that. As an example of how ratings do not always lead to what you call "majority oriented" programming, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is about 70th in the Neilson ratings (which is pathetic... that means it is getting about a 2.0 share, at best), but there is a 4-way network war going on to pick up the show next season, because advertisers know that Buffy has a very loyal cult following.

    On the other hand, if all the people like you who prefer the more obscure shows are too paranoid to participate in the survey, the data will show that we all really love watching "Will and Grace", and you will get 24 hours of nothing else.

  • by GMontag451 ( 230904 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @09:10AM (#339876) Homepage
    Nielson ratings require an extra piece of equipment hooked into your TV. But Digital Cable has a transmitter built right in to the cable box. That is how it requests listings for certain times. The cable company could be using that for info collecting purposes.
  • by fmaxwell ( 249001 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @12:03PM (#339890) Homepage Journal
    I just don't understand the twisted belief that aggregating the viewing habits of the entire TiVo subscriber base is a privacy concern. In order for something to be a "privacy" issue, it must relate to "private" (see the similarity of the words?) information about a person, not statistical information about a large group.

    It's this kind of story that makes us seem like paranoid nuts to the population at large. Why don't we only sound the alarm when a company does violate people's privacy rather than every time we find out that some company could, if the so chose, violate someone's privacy?

  • by SomeoneYouDontKnow ( 267893 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @09:13AM (#339900)
    You know, it occurs to me that companies aren't just willing to sell things to you anymore and let you go on your merry way. Now you not only pay with your hard-earned money but also with your demographics. When was the last Web site you saw where you could just go in, add one or more products to your shopping cart and simply check out without having to register and tell the company everything about yourself, including what you had for breakfast that morning? And this tactic isn't just happening online anymore. This morning's Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a story [] about how Kroger is now limiting most of its sale items to those who sign up for its discount card. And yes, they can and do keep track of what you buy. And like everyone else, they say that they'll never divulge that data. I wonder how many companies would be willing to write that promise into a legally-binding contract. Not many, I bet. You'd think that retailers would be happy to just sell us things, but no, they want to also sell us to marketers. And I don't buy the BS that this allows them to lower the prices they charge us. They're doing it to make more money, not so they can give us the benefit of lower prices. If a marketer wants my data, then they can pay me in cold hard cash. After all, it's my data, damn it. You want my demographics? Fine, show me the money! If I like your offer, then maybe we'll talk.
  • by MSBob ( 307239 ) on Monday March 26, 2001 @08:28AM (#339911)
    If it makes my television viewing better, then I'm all for *anonymous* tracking.

    And tell me how is this supposed to make your television viewing better, huh? This will just result in TV program being adjusted to the lowest common denominator (not that it's not already) and quality programs that are targeted at a bit more discerning viewers will disappear altogether. Viewing rate is King after all! Then we will have a flood of Survivor and Temptation Island or whatever the fuck they call it these days and live coverages of school shootings.

    Happy viewing!

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"