A couple snuggling in front of the TV could end up getting bombarded by commercials for romantic vacations, flowers or even condoms and birth control pills. That creepy invasion-of-privacy scenario comes from a Verizon patent idea that envisions spying on TV viewers for the sake of serving up related ads.
Verizon aims to track the behavior of TV watchers as they sing happy songs, play with a pet dog, or enjoy some supposedly private time with a loved one on the couch. The tracking system would then search terms related to the behaviors it sees — such as "cuddling" or "romance" — and present viewers with TV ads related to that topic during commercial breaks, according to the patent filing first discovered by FierceCable.
The romance scenario is just one example detailed in the patent filing. But Verizon also describes the capability to detect a person's mood from whether he or she is singing or humming a "happy" song, so that it can select ads geared for happy people.
Similar patent filing examples include fighting, wrestling, playing a game or somehow competing with another person. The system could also identify objects such as pets, soft drink cans or a bag of chips in a person's hand, and room decorations or furniture.
The patent filing even suggests the tracking system communicating with whatever smartphone or tablet a TV viewer might happen to have in his or her hands. That would allow Verizon to sneak a look at the websites a person is browsing, read email drafts or see what e-book he or she is reading. [ Spy App Can Turn Smartphones Against You ]
Such a patent idea would turn TV set-top boxes into spy boxes with sensors for both seeing and hearing the activity in front of the TV. Many TV viewers already own such set-top boxes to access pay-per-view services, digital video recordings and Internet streaming.
The patent was filed back on May 26, 2011. But it only appeared on the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office's website on Nov. 29, 2012, because all patent applications are published after 18 months, according to Ars Technica.
Plenty of e-commerce and social media websites already track people's personal information and online habits. Many video games also track the virtual behavior of gamers for the sake of improving future game design or providing feedback on their in-game progress.
The almost constant online tracking has allowed websites such as Facebook and Google to try serving up ads related to whatever online information is available about a person. But the Verizon idea crosses the divide between the digital and real worlds to extract information by essentially monitoring people's behaviors in real life — an intrusion that many people may find extremely uncomfortable.
Still, the patent filing may not end up getting approved. Companies file patents on plenty of ideas that never become a reality. But whatever the case, the Verizon idea may end up getting as much public disapproval as Microsoft's patent filing aimed at tracking employee behavior at work.