LCDs are Tuning Into You, Tracking You and Everything Else that in Scary

Posted by on Mar 7, 2011 in Advertising

For years people have referenced “Minority Report” as the extreme version of out-of-home advertising. A saucy mix of technology and down right scary. But it would seem out-of-home television and LCDs are not the only culprits in the proliferation of tracking and matching viewer preferences with actual content. This mornings article in the Wall Street Journal gives similar technology scariness to people who are always a bit wary of privacy and other issues which could be present when technology like this is implemented. From the WSJ:

The goal: emulate the sophisticated tracking widely used on people’s personal computers with new technology that reaches the living room.

One of the most advanced companies, Cablevision Systems Corp., has rolled out a system that can show entirely different commercials, in real time, to different households tuned to the same program. It can deliver targeted ads to all the company’s three million subscribers concentrated in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.

In an early test of Cablevision’s technology, the U.S. Army used it to target four different recruitment ads to different categories of viewers.

One group, dubbed “family influencers” by Cablevision, saw an ad featuring a daughter discussing with her parents her decision to enlist. Another group, “youth ethnic I,” saw an ad featuring African-American men testing and repairing machinery. A third, “youth ethnic II,” saw soldiers of various ethnicities doing team activities. An Army spokesman declined to comment.

Currently there have been more than 50 campaigns who have used the data to track and push back advertisements that are highly targeted. This type of a system could be very effective, but also a bit creepy. Privacy is certainly an issue and the article also gives ways to opt-out of such aggressive ad targeting.

Companies currently working with such advertising technology say they do not know personal information because they don’t want to be “looking in the window,” but who is to stop them from looking in the window. Perhaps that is what Windows will eventually do themselves. I’ve often thought about the Kinect device and how it is equipped with a camera: the perfect way to intrude into the privacy of a home and glean information regarding the persons using it. Kinect could even be used to feed targeted ads to people. Also a bit scary.

There will certainly be a counter technology however, like TIVO and DVR which will thwart the sophisticated work being done by these companies. People will also continue to demand more control over what they see and more control over the amount of information they will want to have available to advertisers. These companies are certainly walking a fine line. That said, they need to be a bit careful with the amount of information they harvest and with what they do with it.


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