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.

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73Comments
Dec 7, 2012 4:25PM
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It's a damn shame that, now that the audio and video are primo, TV content sucks and the providers are becoming intrusive.  Other than a game here and there, there's not much that can't be gotten on the radio, online, or from Netflix.  So why do I need a DVR or even a TV provider?  When this happens, the cord will be cut.

Dec 7, 2012 4:19PM
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That is very, very George Orwell's 1984

beyond creepy

Dec 7, 2012 4:14PM
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Shame shame shame!  U.S. can not allow this to happen.  This looks like just before WWII!  We were spied by the Japanese (on ly that happens by "real persons" , not "sneaky"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Dec 7, 2012 4:08PM
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...and I suppose that if the camera sees you walk away from the TV during commercials (like a lot of us do to get a snack, etc.) then it will turn up the volume?
Dec 7, 2012 4:04PM
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Nonononononononono

I don't think so. The world is coming closer to George Orwells 1984 every year.

Dec 7, 2012 4:03PM
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Time to move over verizon big bro already thought of that and for all we know Implemented it already  Dough Brains 
Dec 7, 2012 4:01PM
Dec 7, 2012 4:00PM
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Ok, I'm sorry but enough is enough. I know all of you want your freedom on the internet, but something has to be done about privacy on the internet. Companys selling information about you, know every move you make, and now want to watch you in your own home??? If there was something we ever needed the government to step in and help us with, this is it... although the govt. probably loves these programs. 
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TV is designed for commercial applications, not for your entertainment. The commercialism in TV creates an artificial need. Avoiding or limiting television especially for younger viewers will create a healthier environment. Get them a book to read, not a tv.

Dec 7, 2012 3:50PM
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Tape defeats the camera and putting their box inside another box fixes the microphones.  Nice try at Big Brother, Verizon, but ... FAIL.
Dec 7, 2012 3:47PM
Dec 7, 2012 3:43PM
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WHAT IF YOU WHERE MAKING LOVE. WOULD YOU SHOW UP ON THE STORE SHELVES IN A PORN MOVIE. HELL NO. BIG BROTHER HAS ENOUGH CAMERAS. CAN YOU SAY INVASION OF PRIVACY. WHAT ABOUT THE SAYING,IN THE PRIVACY OF YOUR OWN HOME. SHOOTS THAT RIGHT OUT THE WINDOW DON'T IT NOW !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Dec 7, 2012 3:36PM
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I put a piece of tape over the camera on my computer. I always wonder abt the "box" from the cable company. (No privacy-even in the womb!)
Dec 7, 2012 3:36PM
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No freaking way do I want Big Brother watching me watch TV or anything else.  Very creepy crap.
Dec 7, 2012 3:30PM
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Absolutely NOT! This is a horrible idea and shame on Verizon for moving forward with it-
Dec 7, 2012 3:30PM
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Lets see.........Camaras at intersections, highways, chips on school kids, cellular companies to keep ALL text messages from everybody for several years.............and this country voted for Obama.....wow
Dec 7, 2012 1:47PM
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Just another glitch in the matrix people, there is nothing to see here. Just plug back in and go to sleep.
Dec 7, 2012 1:19PM
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George Orwell's book "1984":

The telescreens (in every public area, and in the quarters of the people), have hidden microphones and cameras. These devices, alongside informers, permit the Thought Police to spy upon everyone and so identify anyone who might endanger the Party's régime.

 

Is 'Consume or Die" the next mantra...

Dec 7, 2012 1:07PM
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In case you don't already know, your computers (and maybe even smart phones and tablets), can see you through the built-in camera.

okay hackers - please tell us how to disconnect the spy devices.



Dec 7, 2012 11:10AM
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What in the hell is this world coming to? This is just another example that we have NO control over any part of our lives. Between the government and corporations we will have no say in anything.  If I were young and just starting out in life I'd get the hell out of this corrupt gulag of a country!
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