“Watching the watchers” is taking on a whole new meaning.
News that Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) may be developing a television set-top box with a motion sensor and video camera has rekindled the debate over technology that can record so-called ambient action. Should a TV-mounted box have the ability to track our movements, record our voices and monitor our behaviors? Should cable providers and tech companies be allowed to collect such information without our consent?
Lawmakers and privacy advocates are asking such questions as companies continue to experiment with data collection that will extend beyond our gadgets and into our living rooms and bedrooms. On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google privately showed off a prototype device at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last January. The company is one of many tech players looking to compete with pay-TV providers, who themselves have been exploring new ways to capture information about viewers’ behavior.
In November, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) filed a patent application for a set-top box that delivers advertisements based on users’ behaviors. For instance, two people cuddling on sofa watching TV might see a commercial for a romantic Disney cruise, while an arguing couple might see a pitch for couples’ therapy. The device would use a combination of motion and audio sensors to collect information about what viewers are doing as they watch TV.