The TV's Eye is Set On You


| June 22, 2001

The TV's Eye is Set On You

Are you watching your TV or is your TV watching you? Thanks to new technological developments, such as digital cable, you may soon have a more intimate relationship with you best buddy--the television set.

Consider this scenario; you and your next-door neighbor are watching the same show on cable TV, you in your house - she in hers. At the station break you're treated to back-slapping, ex-NFL players touting the latest twist on the same old mass-brewed beer, while your neighbor sees a commercial for a fine wine, fermented delicately in hand-crafted vats of aged, extinct oak.

Fine by you, right? You're a beer drinker and she's a wine snob. You don't want to hear about all the products out there, just the ones you're interested in. As Edmund Sanders reports in the Los Angeles Times, this is what new target marketing technology can now do--program certain ads toward certain consumers through information gathered by viewing habits. This may seem like a simple convenience to you, but is there a darker side?

Certain watchdog groups, such as the Center for Digital Democracy in Washington, D.C., believe theres a potential for abuse lurking in this new technology. The Center's president, Jeff Chester, claims that cable companies will be able to collect data on customer's viewing and purchasing habits without their permission or knowledge. It only takes a little science fiction-tainted imagination to conjure up all kinds of evil 'Big Brother' scenarios resulting from this practice.

'We're creating a dossier society,' says Chester. 'These surveillance systems are being deployed without a public debate, and viewers may not understand what kind of information is being collected or how it's used.'
--Al Paulson
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