Do You Want Your TV to Watch You?

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Cable companies are thinking about putting cameras and microphones in our cable boxes. Members of Congress are already moving to limit their use. What do you think?

Microsoft’s next video game console, the Xbox One, features a built-in camera and microphone that are raising privacy concerns. But technology companies may soon build them into devices with far wider use: cable boxes.

Verizon is one of several toying with the idea, The Boston Globe says:

Cable and technology companies such as Verizon are trying to develop monitoring systems that would be built into cable TV subscribers’ set-top boxes or digital video recorders and use cameras and microphones to keep tabs on the movements and comments of viewers — even to the point of detecting their moods.

That information would be used to deliver more appealing advertisements. For example, if the camera spied two lovers snuggling on the couch, the box might show an ad for a romantic getaway. If it spotted a beer can, it might read the label and serve an ad highlighting that brand. Both of these examples are described in a 2011 Verizon patent application, the Globe says.

Nobody’s using such a system yet, it adds.

Two U.S. representatives — a Republican and a Democrat — are pitching legislation to place limits on the devices to protect privacy. The bill is called the We Are Watching You Act, and would require providers to offer a means to opt out of monitoring, to continuously display a message warning consumers when the device was watching, and to explain to them what information is collected and how it is used.

Verizon’s patent application was rejected, and the company declined comment to the Globe. What do you think of the system it proposed? Would you agree to it? Do you see any benefit? Let us know on Facebook.

Stacy Johnson

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