The Wall Street Journal continues its in-depth report, “What They Know,” about the state of surveillance in the United States and how these surveillance programs affect individual privacy. In the latest installment, the Journal looks at the building of detailed profiles on people as they view TV shows. Such information is gathered for practices such as targeted behavioral advertising:
Data-gathering firms and technology companies are aggressively matching people’s TV-viewing behavior with other personal data—in some cases, prescription-drug records obtained from insurers—and using it to help advertisers buy ads targeted to shows watched by certain kinds of people.
At the same time, cable and satellite companies are testing and deploying new systems designed to show households highly targeted ads. The goal: emulate the sophisticated tracking widely used on people’s personal computers with new technology that reaches the living room. […]
Targeted ads are getting in front of people a few ways. In one method, TV providers such as Cablevision can beam different ads to different set-top boxes, even when they’re tuned to the same channel.
This technology figures out which subscribers should see which ad by anonymously matching the names and addresses of Cablevision’s subscribers with data provided by advertisers and others, via a third party. Cablevision says it doesn’t share subscriber data with advertisers, or use or share viewership information.
A second method for targeting ads works differently. Companies including TRA Inc., Rentrak Corp. and WPP PLC’s Kantar Media, along with tech titan Microsoft Corp., are taking data on TV-viewing behavior harvested from set-top boxes and matching it with a broad array of household data. Then they, and other tech firms including Google Inc., help advertisers buy ads targeted to shows watched by certain types of people. […]
“This could be marketing nirvana, or fraught with potential peril,” says Tim Hanlon, chief executive of Velociter, the investment arm of Mediabrands, a unit of Interpublic Group. For the first time, TV tracking could combine viewership data, telemarketing data and online data to examine people’s lifestyles. People might see a greater volume of ads they find “personally intrusive,” he says, citing political campaigns as examples.
Companies involved in TV targeting say the household-level matching is done by outside companies that provide only aggregated data, stripped of personally identifiable details such as names. Many say TV targeting is less intrusive than online tracking, because TV technologies don’t target individuals, but instead use the data to draw inferences about aggregated groups of set-top boxes or households.
Read the full story, including the Journal‘s tips: “How to Opt Out of Having TV Data Put to Use for Advertising Purposes.”