Does TiVo Spy on You?

The TiVoLuTiOn.

TiVo has been getting lots of media attention lately, and with the mass media reporting, a lot of facts seem to get twisted around to put a spin on the story.

At this time, millions of people own a hard-disk drive recorder that time-shifts programming by compressing your shows in real time and saving it on a hard-drive, which is similar to how your computer stores files, web pages, and documents. Some of these recording devices operate in conjunction with a service called TiVo. What is TiVo, and what do they do?

TiVo is a service. What they do is provide an EPG (Electronic Program
Guide) that contains channel and show information for your hard drive recorder. This EPG is downloaded to your hard-drive every night when it calls out (which is why it has to be connected to a phone line). Without the EPG, these hard drive recorders would be just as dumb as
VCR's were, and no one would know how to use them. It's the
Electronic Program Guide that makes these things so darned easy to use, which is why they are immensely popular.

So What's All the Hoopla?

Back when the TiVo software was created, certain abilities were installed that have been controversial for years. The TiVo has the ability to monitor and record viewer data, including everything you do with your TiVo. This issue was a big deal about 3-4 years ago when these devices were new, then went forgotten until recently.

TiVo is now working with Nielsen Media Research, who is the company responsible for collecting viewer information to publish the TV ratings. This new plan allows TiVo and Nielsen to combine user data, and publish information on the viewing habits of TiVo owners. Many believe that TiVo's data is a much more accurate portrayal of how people actually watch TV because Nielsen's ancient methods require the user to be watching it live, even though millions of people haven't seen a live TV show in years.

The media's spin on this makes you believe they are spying on YOU, which is not necessarily true. They are not actually combining your viewing data with your personal information and publishing it. So you'll never see something like, "Joe Blow of Springfield, Illinois at 111 Somewhere Rd, recorded the chick-flick Dirty Dancing on Saturday March 1, 2005." For now, they are just collecting the number of TiVo units that recorded a show, and possibly if it was viewed. So it's nothing to be scared about. 

TiVo's Effect on TV

On the flip side, many users believe that it's still is an infringement on privacy, and that in the long run it could have damaging effects to television. How? Suppose that they report to advertisers what commercials are being skipped and how often. It is possible that information like that could destroy the 30-second advertising spot, forcing advertisers to come up with something more drastic to hock their wares. How about pop-up ads during your show, or more obvious product placement (remember the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show)? Who knows, but the face of television could change quite a bit if TiVo technology is really put to use.

There are still hard-drive recorders that are not based on the TiVo service. So if you don't want your viewing data used, buy a device from rival Replay TV, or one specific to your cable or satellite provider that doesn't use the TiVo service.


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