FTC, You Better Turn-on (then Quickly Shut-off) Your TiVo

As the FTC readies a review of online commerce, including privacy, it should examine TiVo’s new plan to turn over “second-by-second” viewer data to major advertisers. The TiVo-Omnicom deal, as reported yesterday by Ad Age and others, will also include “behavioral data” derived from our personal video recorder (PVR) viewing. That data will form the basis of an “engagement” study that TiVo and Omnicom will do together. (Engagement is a relatively new ad industry initiative that is attempting to design, deliver and measure more effective ways of branding.) Omnicom, of course, is an advertising and marketing octopus, operating such agencies as BBDO Worldwide, DDB Worldwide, and TWBA/Worldwide. The TiVo deal is with the Omnicom Media Group, which includes OMD (which is interested in new media), PHD Network, Icon International and others.

Almost from the start, TiVo has positioned itself as an ad-friendly technology (to help allay fears from the media and ad industry it brought in many investors from those fields, such as Time Warner, CBS and NBC). Last month, TiVo announced “the creation of a new line of business, TiVo Audience Research and Measurement (ARM), offering advertisers, marketers, networks and advertising agencies second-by-second data and analysis on DVR viewing. With this unique data, advertisers will have key insights into the viewership and effectiveness of their TV advertising by network, genre, day-part, time-slot, day of week and pod position. The initial research product, Commercial Viewership Report, provides a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the creative and media planning strategies that are most effective to reach a fast forwarding consumer.”

This should sound alarm bells. No matter what they (or others) claim are sufficient privacy policies, analytical data about unique habits are being turned over to marketers. The FTC and state attorneys-general should demand that TiVo stop any such “second by second” collection and behavioral analysis until they have submitted detailed information so its plans can be evaluated. TiVo’s subscribers must be given full-disclosure and the ability to opt-in to any new data analysis arrangement. All of this, of course, is part of the ever-growing system of personalized data collection and targeting that is shaping all media delivery platforms. Our privacy and more is at risk. But, we have to admit. Does the FTC really care about growing threats to privacy via our broadband world?

This is an issue will be writing about (and actively working on) in the months ahead. And an issue that is the focus of our new book—out in January (apologies for the marketing here!).

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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