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Privacy Media Television

Tivo Tracks Superbowl Viewing Habits 543

ThePretender writes "Sprinkled in the Janet Jackson boob stories is an alarming bit of information: Tivo tracks subscribers' viewing habits. They know how many times the boob was viewed, among other good-to-have (meaning data worth $$) information. Yes, if you agreed to Tivo's privacy policy you knew they could do this, with the promise that you aren't identifiable. Put on the tin foil hats? Or just another way for them to keep your monthly fee down (snicker)." A story from 2002 has more information and makes clear that Tivo does have the capability to record every click you make on the remote control, at all times. Previously Tivo said they tracked 10,000 people for the Super Bowl, this year 20,000.
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Tivo Tracks Superbowl Viewing Habits

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  • by kochsr ( 144988 ) * on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @04:30PM (#8173222) Homepage
    HDTV broadcast beat out the use of my tivo this year. i didn't even record the superbowl on it. HDTiVo is supposed to be coming out sooner than later for a retail price of $999, dish only. I don't think i'll be buying it right away.
  • by glinden ( 56181 ) * on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @04:31PM (#8173229) Homepage Journal
    If TiVo is only passing along aggregated, anonymized data on user behavior, is there a privacy issue? From the article:
    • Privacy advocates have decried such technologies as invasive, but TiVo officials say they do not pass along information that would identify individual viewers.
    While it's true that TiVo needs to collect "every click" as the first part of compiling this aggregate data, if the final data is just summarized habits of TiVo users with no individual information, is there a privacy issue?
  • VERY old dup.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tommck ( 69750 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @04:32PM (#8173247) Homepage
    Didn't we basically have this same story TWO YEARS AGO []????
  • by blueZhift ( 652272 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @04:38PM (#8173326) Homepage Journal
    I'd like to see a distribution of the amount of time the machine was kept on pause during that event. That would yield another interesting statistic. ;-)
  • by Wee ( 17189 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @04:39PM (#8173339)
    I'd much rather they pass along anonymous ratings data based on actual viewing statistics of a random cross-section of TiVo-owning Americans than opinion surveys of people named Nielsen (or some other small group). I know there's more to it than that, but you get the point. A statistically meaningful sample is a good thing.

    I just can't help but think that if real viewing stats were used as predictors of progamming popularity, we might have more stuff like Firefly, Mythbusters, Penn & Teller's Bullshit, etc. and less Everyone Loves Raymond, Friends, Frasier, or a million indistinct reality TV shows.

    If it keeps shows I want to watch on the air longer, then let them see what I'm watching and recording, I say.


  •'s Boycott (Score:5, Interesting)

    by limekiller4 ( 451497 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @04:40PM (#8173358) Homepage
    Some of you may have heard that CBS refused to air the winning's " Bush in 30 Seconds [] " ad. Just prior to the Superbowl, asked their subscribers/readers to boycott [] CBS by switching from CBS during the commercials to CNN, who were airing their 30-second spot.

    Presumably, Tivo knows precisely how many people actually went through with it.
  • by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @04:52PM (#8173494)
    What I wonder is if TiVo is supplying the networks with information on commercial skipping, in return for not being sued for allowing such skipping?
  • by theguru ( 70699 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @04:56PM (#8173535)
    I'm glad Tivo logs what I watch, and presumably sells the rolled up info to marketing types. In fact, we should all be glad for this! The next time our favorite show is about to be canceled, just remember, they would have known you were watching if you had been using a Tivo.

    I watch a lot of obscure shows on cable. I'm glad the people who decide if they want to renew those shows have an additional source of information than the traditional Neilson family to know if people are watching.

    Two questions though: Couldn't my cable company do the same thing with my digital cable box?

    Are the Tivo watching habits really worth anything. Right now, as I sit here at work typing this message, my Tivo is on. It has no idea if the power to the TV is on or off though. It THINKS the digital cable box is on channel X, but I could have turned it or the TV off, or changed the digital box with a different remote. Does Tivo try to guess if I'm really watching the show on channel X right now by seeing how long it's been since I changed the channel/paused/used rewind/etc? I'm sure there are times when I spend several hours on a single channel and don't press any Tivo remote buttons.
  • by phorm ( 591458 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @05:10PM (#8173698) Journal
    If you really don't want them to be 100% aware of your habits generate some random noise.

    The modern method would be an IR-equipped laptop which can change channels/volume/etc randomly while you're away (just have your TV volume down).

    Or you could do it the old fashioned way (tape a few dozen remotes to the ground of a small room, put a few dozen cats in room... or just tape remotes to cat's feet).
  • by ball-lightning ( 594495 ) <> on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @05:15PM (#8173755)
    I'd defintely have to agree with you. Owning a Tivo myself, I also make use of the "thumb" buttons to rate each show I watch, on the [doubtful] chance that it'll effect something somewhere. When you think about it, if you aren't a Nelson family, then you really almost have no voice on what is on television. This way, at least the stations know what you like/dislike. Also, it isn't like they didn't say they didn't track anybody, just that they won't personally identify you.
  • by badasscat ( 563442 ) <basscadet75@y a h o o . com> on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @05:17PM (#8173774)
    greed - the posting was way over the top for something that is old news. If you own a Tivo and didn't know this was taking place, then you haven't been paying attention.

    Wouldn't surprise me if that's the problem - the original poster not owning a TiVo, and commenting on something he therefore knows little about. Everybody I know that owns a TiVo, as well as TiVo owners I've talked to on various message boards (such as at [], seems to know and be perfectly fine with this practice.

    And speaking as a TiVo owner myself, I have absolutely no problem with it. In fact, I tried to sign up to have my data collected non-anonymously - a service TiVo allows their customers to provide optionally (their web site wouldn't accept my TiVo model # when I tried to sign up). People complain constantly about the poor state of television in this country - this is how you go about changing that. If a show sucks, you don't watch it, and TiVo knows it and will tell the networks. I want TiVo to know that my viewing consists primarily of Antiques Roadshow, Once and Again reruns, The Office, Survivor and Mystery Science Theater 3000. And I want the added leverage (however small) of having an actual name attached to that data when it reaches the networks. I am not concerned in the slightest with how the networks plan to use this information, but if you're that embarrassed about your TV viewing habits that you can't bear the thought of anybody else knowing about them, then either just stay anonymous or don't buy TiVo. But they're not trying to hide anything - they post their privacy policy all over the place when you sign up.
  • by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @05:24PM (#8173838)
    Exactly what kind of "illegal content" is your TiVo going to be playing? Only that which is broadcasted/streamed to your unit from giant media conglomerates.

    The public service announcement some courageous, publicly minded techie slipped into the broadcast stream exposing [insert favorite president here]'s criminal participation in [insert favorite crime here], against the wishes of both his conglomerate's bosses and the ruling party.

    Depending on how compelling the material, the Feds might want to know everyone who saw it, so as to begin their search for future revolutionaries and resistence leaders among a smaller subset of the general population. TiVo gives them this power to some degree already ... in a few years, when virtually every household has some kind of PVR device, you'll be able to drop the "to some degree."

    Seam farfetched? Then you haven't spent the last 3+ years living in the same America I have, where things that three years ago would have argued for a tinfoil hat have become mainstream headlines (with nary a voice raised in protest).

    While we may not have slipped that far yet (I stress *may*, as CBS's refusal to run pro-democratic ads during the Superbowl while running pro-Republican ads tells a very different story IMHO), we are most certainly well on our way.

    Privacy is important as much for what it can prevent as anything else ... remove the preventative measures and the question doesn't become "will X happen" as much as "when will X happen? This year, this decade, or in fifty years." If the abuse of power is possible and, through the erosion of privacy and civil liberties, in some way facilitated, the only certainty history provide us is that said abuse most certainly will happen, likely much sooner than anyone expects.
  • by phamlen ( 304054 ) <> on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @05:37PM (#8174017) Homepage
    I just keep my Tivo unplugged from the phone line. Tivo can only transfer the data if you plug it in (to either the phone or the internet.)

    Admittedly, my Tivo has been complaining forever that it needs to make a call - but that doesn't seem to affect anything. (They claim it needs to make a call to "get the latest updates and channel information" - but so far it hasn't been necessary)
  • by hangareighteen ( 31788 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @05:44PM (#8174111) Homepage

    [...] is going to help convict anyone of anything?

    Well, perhaps not convict anyone of anything.. but it certainly
    could be used to provide an alibi for someone. Esentially, the Tivo
    might be used to corroborate someone's stated whereabouts at anytime. The
    fact that it actually tracks the keystrokes could be advantageous, proving
    that someone had to be in your home and watching television at that time.
    I doubt it could be used as the only evidence to clear you, but it
    could be used with enough circumstantial evidence to provide enough
    reasonable doubt.

  • by resinman ( 199081 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @06:08PM (#8174406) Homepage
    Plus why would they allow things like this []?
  • Re:Prudish hysteria (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Zapdos ( 70654 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @06:40PM (#8174745)
    Actually the hysteria is on the other side. The side that wants to make sure this doesn't happen again are not having hysterics, it is the other group.

    Like it or not the Super Bowl is a Family Event.

    This wasn't just a bare breast, The dancers and music created a very sexual image. These images will stir emotions in children that are too young to have or handle such emotions. If this had been a bare breast in context, such as in Schindler's List no-one would have cared.

    This event is a line drawn in the sand.
    This is Hollywood trying for a 1st down. If it isn't stopped here where will it go? It will go to the next 1st down.

  • by donutz ( 195717 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @06:40PM (#8174753) Homepage Journal
    The entire "sports copyright notice" required by the league is unneeded.... current copyright law doesn't even require "Copyright 2004" to be displayed. Everything gets full copyright protection the moment it is created by default, no action is needed.

    This part I have no problem with. What I have a problem with is the fact that they not only claim copyright to the telecast, but that even "accounts of the game" are prohibited.

    I guess if I watched the game on TV, they could hold me liable for copyright infringement (my account is a derived work of their telecast?).

    But what if I'm at the game? Can I go home and give an account of the game without getting attacked by legions of rabid lawyers?
  • by qtp ( 461286 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @06:54PM (#8174882) Journal
    The vast majority of the criticism has not been of the "Think of the children" hysterical condemnation school, but more a sense of outrage that this what is considered entertaining (bad dancing, crappy music, insincere patriotic posturing, crotch grabbing, fake astonishment, and showing a tit). The sheer lack of spontenaity, the absolute absense of anything remotely resembling talent, the dearth of inspired performance plus the Janet Jackson tit exposure left many feeling rather insulted, that the show was conceived by either an inexpirienced and purile mind or by a has been who is desperate to regain the spotlight.

    Think back to the rather sterile, emotionless and absolutely unerotic kisses exchanged betwteen Madonna and Britney/Christina. Same crap, nothing spontaneous, nothing titilating, nothing exciting in the least. Simply juvenalia at its absolute, unentertaining worst.

    As to why this devolution into the mindnumbingly boring realm of poor imitations of a seventh grade boy's psyche, perhaps it is evidence that the entertainment industry knows they are obsolete, they are desperate to retain the spotlight, and uncertain of when the public will realize that this dinosaur has no more new tricks to perform, and their hired talent no longer has anything with which to keep our attention. If they can't have our devotion, it seems they'll settle for dissatisfied scorn.

  • Missing the point... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 03, 2004 @09:48PM (#8176225)
    People really are missing the true beauty of this.

    (Tinfoil hats aside, of course...)

    It's NOT about what SHOWS you watch. It's about HOW you watch them. I look foward to the day when cable/sat providers start gather/using up-to-the-second stats on peoples viewing habits.

    Most of us have little problem sitting through a few commercials...but how many times have you seen one that just really puts you on edge to the point where you begin to surf? Deal is, if stations start seeing a significant portion (in comparison) of the audience changing channels every time they air an ad trying to convience us that smoking pot supports terrorism, the station will have incentive to make the ad go away.

    Same thing goes true for shows. Much, MUCH better than test audiences. Take a show like Fear Factor...Let's say %10 more of the audience turns the channel every time they show the group eating things like a pile of ferret dung covered in rabbit cocks. That's a pretty good indicator that they need to retool. An annoying actor ruining an otherwise good show? People changing the channel/fast fowarding every time they show up and then watching normally again when they are gone would be a pretty good way them to find out.

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"