When our Televisions Watch Us
“George Orwell would be proud. Earlier this week Propublica discovered that more than 10 million Vizio televisions silently record what their owners are watching and send a live-stream of their viewing habits to a commercial company that uses it to profile them. Most disturbingly, Vizio ties this viewing information to the user’s IP address, allowing their offline interests to be used to target them with advertisements in the online world.
According to Vizio, the company uses this information to offer advertisers “highly specific viewing behavior data on a massive scale with great accuracy” thatrepresents a “revolutionary shift across all screens that brings measurability, relevancy and personalization to the consumer like never before.” Security vendor Avast published an analysis on Wednesday that dissects the data stream Vizio sends back, showing that it is essentially a low-resolution screen capture taken at regular intervals of whatever is on the screen at that moment.
Yet, for all of the uproar this discovery has caused, it is just part of a broader trend of humans being intricately profiled through the digital trails they leave. Hospitals and insurance companies are beginning to explore using public records and credit card purchase data to determine how healthy you are being in your daily life. For example, buying a pack of cigarettes at the gas station, buying donuts on the way home, stopping off at a fast food restaurant for lunch, or letting your gym membership lapse could all be reported back to your doctor and potentially used to increase your insurance rates.”