Verizon's creepy spy-cam idea

The company wants to patent technology that watches you while you're watching television -- and shows you ads based on what you're doing.

By Kim Peterson Dec 7, 2012 9:50AM
Image: Couple on sofa watching television together -- Blend Images, Hill Street Studios, the Agency Collection, Getty ImagesSay you're fighting in the living room with your spouse. What would you think if the TV noticed and showed you a commercial for marriage counseling?

Or maybe your young daughter is in the room watching a program with you. What if the TV saw this and started showing Barbie commercials?

That's exactly what Verizon (VZ) is proposing in a patent application filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The application describes a system that uses infrared cameras and microphones to watch what people are doing in front of a TV.

If two people are cuddling on a couch watching TV, the system might show them a commercial for a romantic vacation, flowers, and yes, even condoms, according to the application. The system could even figure out what pets are in the room and start showing dog food commercials or flea treatment ads.

Verizon declined to comment on the issue to FierceCable, the site that first uncovered the patent application. But the company later released a statement that said it "has a well-established track record of respecting its customers' privacy and protecting their personal information." Verizon said that such futuristic patent filings are routine, and anything it did in the future would be in line with its track record of protecting customer privacy.

Companies often file patents as a defensive move to protect an idea from competitors. Verizon likely wanted to cover this ground to keep anyone else from getting there first. And as shockingly invasive as the idea might seem, someone is going to go down this road eventually.

The problem with traditional TV advertising is that it can't account for what users are doing, the patent says. This limits the effectiveness of the ads.

Some observers have likened the idea to Google's (GOOG) Gmail service, which scans a users email and shows them ads based on messages they have sent or received. This practice has raised quite a few privacy alarms in the past, even though Google claims the entire process is automated and no human is actually reading your email. Now, Gmail users don't seem to care much at all.

Google is one of several companies interested in what Verizon is doing. In fact, Google filed a patent years ago for an "image capture device" that could measure how many viewers are watching a particular broadcast, Ars Technica reports. Comcast (CMCSA) has already patented an idea to recommend TV shows based on who it sees in the living room.

More from Money Now

Dec 7, 2012 6:31PM
Even 50 years ago the phone company had the ability to listen to you in your home via your land line. Today, the phone companies and government agencies can activate the microphone in your cell phone to spy on you. The phone doesn't even have to be turned on.
Dec 7, 2012 6:29PM
Dec 7, 2012 6:26PM

Mr. George Orwell, you were were so right...

Dec 7, 2012 6:09PM
Dec 7, 2012 6:07PM

In reply to Bryan 1234567

 If you do nothing than it will be installed.

If you don't want it, fight it any way you can!




Dec 7, 2012 6:02PM

absurdity, atrocity, mind your own "business", and yes it would be shared!!!!


Dec 7, 2012 5:49PM
HEY VERIZON! If you do this.....UP YOURS!!!!      CAN YOU HEAR US NOW???
Dec 7, 2012 5:49PM

**** that ****. i wouldent put anything in my house that lets someone openly watch when they feel like it and **** jerseyite the diffrence with this and your computer tailoring your adds by what you surf is, no one is watching you surk on the computer thru your web cam or anything no one is watching you without your knowledge to find what ads to give you. but have something for them to see you and watch you, me and missus like to fool around on the couch sometimes. maybe we dont want that being seen

Dec 7, 2012 5:41PM
There are WAY too many paranoid, schizophrenics commenting here.  What is so wrong or bad about it?  It's just like tailoring your computer habits to the ads you get while you're surfing.  I get ads that interest me now, and not all the BS ads I don't care about or have any interest in.  So if I'm on my sofa, whacking the schwanzstooker, I'll get ads that mean something to me. 
Dec 7, 2012 5:40PM

The federal government will have access just like they have with text messages without a warrant into your privacy.


We as voters put them in office and let them stay in office..(they = elected representatives.)


Join in with political groups and make your voice heard..

Dec 7, 2012 5:38PM

It would be Orwellian with a capital O if anyone would let them do this to the people! Just another case of our rights being trampled underfoot by corporations. Basically our rights going right down the tubes for them to do with what they please. (That's if TV's had tubes-bad pun)


Verizon may soon be watching me

From the other side of the screen you see

No chance for what used to be

Any concept of the principles of liberty.

While in front of the box we vegetate

Our freedoms will further deteriorate

More like a virtual visit to the zoo

As BIg Brother watches me and you

Dec 7, 2012 5:20PM
What about the guy jerking to porn? Jergens commercials???
Dec 7, 2012 5:11PM

I agree wth an earlier post - if this comes about there should be an instant and precipitous drop in tv sales and viewing.  This is nuts.


Dec 7, 2012 5:08PM

The privacy of one's OWN HOME, they don't have the right.  If a person came and did this, they could be charged with crimminal trespass, along with a lot of legal violations for invasion of privacy.  In fact, if a person did this, they'd be well within their rights to pick the person up by their boot strap, cart them to the front door, and give them a good swift kick with a steel toed size 11 or larger boot, as they quite literally boot the person out of their house and outside a certain legal parimeter around the house which without permission they're not allowed to occupy.


Now I say this, because the side walk doesn't count, nor does the legal right of access the town has (that portion of one's property they're legally allowed to claim for road expansion and what not).  But within a certain distance that would allow one to observe what is transpiring within...


Funny thing is, many are concerned about the police, illegal searches and seizures, etc...  But the private industry can be just as creepy, and just as invasive, exhibit a. being this news item itself.  Now quick, everyone, time to buy black linen cloth to cover your DVR's with.  Just make sure to cut a small whole for that area where the remote's censor is.  It's in your house, obstructing the camera so they can't conduct secret marketing research on you, without your permission isn't against the law, nor is covering their equipment with heavy cloth.  But placing a bug in your house, to track your activities, in the name of marketing research isn't beyond being suspect, and definitely SHOULD be illegal if it isn't already...

Dec 7, 2012 5:07PM
That is just TOO creepy.  What the hell is wrong with these companies?  They have no shame when it comes to making a buck!  Do any of us remember the antiquated term 'privacy'???  This suff needs to stop right now!
Dec 7, 2012 5:03PM
It's bad enough I have to be watched on the street, while driving through intersections, and in every store I enter. To have Verizon with a camera in front of my TV would be a BLATANT disregard for my forth amendment rights! This corporate takeover of our home privacy is just another totally bad idea. It disgusts me to even think about it! I would throw my TV out in the trash first. DISGUSTING!!!
Dec 7, 2012 5:02PM
Microsoft already has a patent to do this with the Kinect. When the Kinect first came out it was reported that Microsoft employees could watch people through their Kinect.. They also want to use the Kinect to see how many people are in a room when you rent VOD so they can charge you for another license if there are "too many"  people. If it's creepy for Verizon it's creepy for Microsoft and Verizon didn't think of it first.
Dec 7, 2012 4:58PM
you people are so clueless LOL the Govt already knows more about you than even you know yourself .. get over it! The future is coming even if you don't like it or not ready for it.. nothing you can do to stop it 
Dec 7, 2012 4:50PM

AND, what about subliminal messages, like....obozo is your friend,, you love obozo.


Dec 7, 2012 4:46PM
I suppose you could put a piece of tape over the camera.  This really will be abused, no doubt about it.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.

Trending NOW

What’s this?


[BRIEFING.COM] S&P futures vs fair value: -5.50. Nasdaq futures vs fair value: -11.80. U.S. equity futures continue holding modest losses with the S&P 500 futures down six points below fair value.

The Dollar Index began the night in the red after gaining 0.6% last week, but a steady rally off the lows has placed the index back near its flat line for the session. The dollar is currently little changed versus the yen (109.05), while the euro (1.2844) and the pound (1.6330) ... More