Verizon Can’t Turn Your TVs Into Viewer-Profiling Spies…Yet

By Nick Venable | Published


My views on anti-consumerism have thrown in the flag when it comes to TV commercials and ad campaigns in general, which have not only taken over all forms of media, but are fully integrated into our everyday lives at nearly every waking moment. As Internet bloggers, we at GFR are walking ads, forcing people to frequent the site by poking them with live and rubber chickens in alternating patterns, at least until Josh or David gets that mind-manipulation grandfather clock project completed. If that sounds like a strange tactic, consider the patent Verizon filed that was recently, and thankfully, rejected by the U.S. Patent Office.

The patent’s “non-final” rejection actually means the company can tinker with the product and try again, but we’ll collectively hope that never happens. If you think I’ve been vague about what the patent is, consider Verizon’s bullshit patent application title: “Methods and Systems for Presenting an Advertisement Associated with an Ambient Action of a Use.” And if you mix around some of the letters in there and add a “k,” you’ll get SKYNET!

Verizon’s controversial invention would be a TV set-top box that has the camera and microphone technology to turn basically anything that it electronically sees and hears into tag words for a ridiculously specific type of ad targeting. If you are alone, with a partner, a group of people, or even if it’s just you and your dog, you are all data. If you are singing, dancing, eating, drinking, fighting, fish-slapping, backpacking, or box-stacking, your actions are data. If you are a man, woman, white, black, Chinese, blonde, tall, handicapped, cyborg, or bald, your features are data. Everything is data. Everything is Verizon.

Don’t get me wrong, while most online ad-targeting completely fails on me, the few times it’s been successful have led me to some great companies I wasn’t aware of before. But deciding I might like witty T-shirts based on my visiting a witty T-shirt website is entirely different from a device actually watching me wear my own witty T-shirts. Or if I don’t happen to be wearing anything at all, I clearly don’t need more ExtenZe ads in my life. I admire the technology’s capabilities from afar, but all I can see in my head is a girl putting on way too much eye makeup and then getting an ad for a battered women’s shelter. The lawsuits would begin before the prototype was powered up.

Furthermore, the device would presumably be configured to connect to any and all of the viewer’s mobile devices, mining for further data that Verizon says would still be protected. Which I trust about as far as I can throw the corporation itself. It will indeed be a freaky day — perhaps a Friday — when my cable provider knows what kind of syrup I use on what kind of pancakes, all while knowing what podcasts I’m listening to on my phone while recording what books I’m searching for on my Nook. Just to show me an ad for a mobile app to use for discounts at a Stephen King-themed breakfast diner. Hmm. Maybe I would like to be data now.