Seems the implications of TiVo’s headline making report on Janet’s flash dance being the most watched part of the Super Bowl I mentioned the other day has hit home with some TiVo owners.
TiVo said users had watched the skin-baring incident nearly three times more than any other moment during the Super Bowl broadcast, sparking headlines that dramatically publicized the power of the company’s longstanding data-gathering practices.
“It’s just sort of creepy,” longtime TiVo subscriber Sandra Munozshe wrote in an e-mail to CNET News.com.
“Make no mistake, I do clearly love the box,” engineer and longtime TiVo user Jerrell Wilson wrote in an e-mail to CNET News.com. “I have been a tireless sales rep with all my friends. I should be on commission from TiVo. Thus arises the most severe form of anger: that deriving from a perceived betrayal of trust.”
Seems some TiVo owners weren’t aware of just how detailed the data collected on their viewing habits really is. Seems the granularity of it is pretty fine:
So what information does TiVo collect about its viewers? The company can indeed tell what has been watched on a particular TiVo box, down to the second, including the number of times a moment was rewound and played again, or a commercial was skipped.
The information is transmitted back to TiVo headquarters in Alviso, Calif., via the same phone line used to download show schedules to the DVR inside a home. The information itself is used to automatically suggest which shows a viewer would like, based on previous selections.
“There is no demographic information sent back to TiVo,” Sutherland said. “TiVo doesn’t know any of that.”
Which isn’t to say that it couldn’t as that’s entirely possible, just that TiVo doesn’t attach demographic information to the data collected at this time.
While conceivably, TiVo could investigate an individual’s viewing habits, it doesn’t, a spokesman said. But it does occasionally mine data from a random sampling of 20,000 homes viewing a particular program, as it did during the Super Bowl.
“I can understand people’s concerns,” said spokesman Scott Sutherland. “But when weighted against reality, they are unfounded.”
Lee Tien, lead staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization concerned with online privacy and other issues, gave TiVo high marks overall for guarding its customers’ personal data. But Tien said the deal with Nielsen pushes the envelope, because it threatens to remove the anonymity from the data collected. “So long as they are only selling anonymized data, then the privacy issues are not at all that great,” he said.
As long as folks know what they’re signing up for then there really isn’t a problem, but it’s clear a lot of folks don’t realize what is being tracked or the level of detail. To their credit TiVo does offer an 800 number you can call to opt-out of the data collection, but even that isn’t clear to a number of their subscribers.