A patent application from Verizon describes a DVR that would watch the living room for "ambient actions" like people singing, fighting, or even cuddling. It would then choose "appropriate" advertisement to show based on its analysis. It isn't the first attempt at this kind of thing, but it might be the creepiest.
The patent, filed May 26, 2011, is entitled "Methods and Systems for Presenting an Advertisement Associated with an Ambient Action of a User." The idea is simple enough: using a built-in camera, the DVR would check that state of the people watching, and make changes to advertising based on that.
It's only one of many TVs now that can watch you back; The camera-equipped Kinect has been a hugely popular accessory for the Xbox 360, and many TVs come with high-definition webcams built-in for video chatting and other purposes.
But in Verizon's idea, the creepiness outweighs the useful by a good margin. It's solely directed at selecting advertising, and has nothing to do with improving the user experience or adding functionality.
Not only that, but the actions it looks for seem odd. It would be understandable, if still a little weird, to send ads targeted to couples if it detected there were two people sitting close together. But Verizon's system goes one step further and detects whether those two might be "cuddling," and then specifically suggests "a commercial for a contraceptive" as a likely one to run.
Few people would submit to such scrutiny anyway, even if they were assured that the information was confidential. And while basing ads on things like reading or cooking wouldn't be as creepy, the other actions described don't even make sense. Playing an instrument, participating in a sport, fighting -- these are things people do when they aren't paying attention to the screen.
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