TiVo Learns Viewing Habits, But Privacy Advocates Oppose Selling Data
Posted March 26, 2001
RALEIGH — TiVoallows you to record live TV, pause it in real time, select programs you wish to see and more. The high-tech device even "learns" your viewing habits, but it is under attack for collecting information about subscribers without telling them.
"It stores that information in your box, and it can then build a profile of what it thinks you like," says TiVo owner Sean Smith.
TiVo units send information back to the company, allowing you to get the programming you want when you want it.
But, the Electronic Privacy Information Center says TiVo is selling information about what you watch. TiVo admits it does sell some information.
"It's our hope that that information would be useful to advertisers and to networks to know who's watching what programs and what their viewing habits are," says Matt Zinn, TiVo privacy officer.
But, Zinn says, the information is not identifiable by a specific individual.
The company says it only keeps mass data, like how many people watched or recorded a program -- not who.
Privacy advocates fear abuse.
"Without the legal safeguards, without the technological safeguards, you really can't leave the companies alone to decide for themselves," says Mark Rottenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Privacy advocates say consumers should always be allowed to decide, in advance, whether to agree to any information sharing scheme.