iTV: Boon or Bane?

A report recently published by the Centre for Digital Democracy (CDD) argues that interactive television (iTV) has some insidious privacy-infringing potential.

“To advertisers, the development of a technology that combines the Web’s interactivity with television’s element of dedicated spectatorship is a dream come true,” argues the report. “With iTV they will have access to a new breed of couch potato, one that both enjoys the warm glow of the tube and craves the personal touch of the Internet.”

What worries the CDD are alleged plans by the cable industry to target specific viewers with “one-to-one” ads based on personal viewing habits. Purportedly schemes are in the pipeline amongst cable companies to monitor the reaction of iTV viewers to ads and adjust personal content accordingly.

“As you watch television, over time a psychological profile could be developed,” the report says. “There’s real potential for manipulation…and the goal is to encourage impulse buying.”

A trade organization for companies involved with iTV, the Association for Interactive Media (AIM), denied that any sinister privacy-infringements were afoot and claimed that no personal information would be collected without subscriber permission.

“The industry plans are to collect aggregate information for advertising, but not to collect information without user knowledge and consent,” said Ben Isaacson, AIM’s executive director. “Profiling opportunities abound, but it will be from the vantage of opt-in strategies.”

With industry analysts predicting that iTV could reach over 50 million households in the US alone within the next five years, the CDD claim that immediate action by the public is crucial.

“The public should decide if this kind of system should be deployed at all…we need safeguards now before intrusive practices become embedded in the system.”

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