By David Byrd
I may be fighting a losing battle in the defense of privacy. I recognize that knowing the habits of buyers is very important in determining when, where and to whom to market various products to improve the success of sales. Moreover, with marketing as my profession, I consider the collection of information on customers and prospects critical not only to selling but also to enabling the development of products and services that are more applicable to an ever-changing marketplace. However, as we surrender more and more personal information to marketers, I wonder about the apparent lack of boundaries by some companies.
Google has often been my punching bag when discussing violating customer’s privacy. Google has done so with Google Maps by collecting personal wireless information without notification as vehicles were used to photograph and map cities and towns, or using data collected from Google voice translations to target ads or even compiling contact information from users' smartphones.
There are many more examples I could use, but today, I am questioning the introduction of cameras and microphones into homes by some service and application providers for the purpose of monitoring the homes' inhabitants. Although not yet implemented, Verizon has filed for a patent on technology that could be included in set-top boxes to improve their ability to target ads to any and all individuals watching TV or using the set-top box for entertainment purposes. In addition to knowing who was in the room, including pets, the technology would allow for ad selection based upon what is taking place or being said in the room. According to the filing, if a couple was arguing, for example, an ad for marriage counseling could be shown. If they were cuddling, ads for romantic getaways or flowers could be shown.
Verizon is not alone in its development of this technology; both Microsoft and Comcast have filed for similar patents. As telecommunications service providers we have had the ability to monitor our customers' conversations and Internet activity for years. And from time to time, we do so on a very limited basis to measure network conditions and quality or support law enforcement. To so solely for the purpose of selling something seems improper. That said, I am sure a growing percentage of people will agree to accept the intrusion in exchange for special services, product discounts or “free" set-top box.
Let’s hope these companies and those who utilize the technology choose to be open in their deployment, ask for permission to activate the technology and establish strong privacy guidelines to secure the collected information.
Soon — hopefully only with your stated permission — a bunch of strangers could be watching and listening to you and anyone else in the viewing area. While the intent is to improve their ability to market products and perhaps increase the programming entertainment value, don’t be surprised if a time comes when silently watching is not enough — and the bundle initiates conversation.
David Byrd is chief marketing officer and executive vice president of channel sales for ANPI ZONE. He previously spent five years as vice president of marketing and sales for Broadvox and before that was vice president of channels and alliances for Eftia and Telcordia.