dslreports logo
site
spacer

spacer
 
   
spc
story category
AT&T's DVRs Are Watching You, Watching It
Data Collection Expands to Include Program Choices, Volume Settings
by Karl Bode 09:11AM Thursday Feb 07 2013
Over the last few years Microsoft, Comcast and Verizon have all filed patents for DVR technology that would monitor people in your living room to deliver more suitable ads. An embedded DVR camera would, for example, notice if you have a dog and then deliver more pet care product advertisements. The ideas never go anywhere because the public finds the idea intrusive and creepy, and most are only just getting used to concepts like behavioral advertising in the first place.

More subtle use of DVR data is likely to become the norm first. MIT Technology Review notes that researchers at AT&T Labs have been running pilots using data from (presumably) AT&T customers that tracks your demographics, how long customers watch programs, which programs they watch, and even at what volume:
quote:
The data—anonymized to remove identifying data such as names—included details of channel changes and volume adjustments plus some demographic information. By assuming that someone was watching a channel any time a TV stayed tuned to it for more than 20 seconds but less than one and a half hours, the researchers built up a record of which subscribers had watched what channels, and when. That was used to predict when different demographic segments would be watching TV in the future—predictions that could be used to plan when to show commercials.
We're not yet at the point where your DVR is watching you more than you watch it, but that's clearly not too far away.

view:
topics flat nest 

cowboyro
Premium
join:2000-10-11
Shelton, CT

HOW???

"and even at what volume:"
Once the TV mode is programmed the volume control commands are sent to the TV and not to the receiver...

hitachi369
Embrace Your Rights
Premium
join:2001-10-03
Grand Rapids, MI
kudos:4

Re: HOW???

It could pick up the IR signals from the remote either way.

cowboyro
Premium
join:2000-10-11
Shelton, CT

Re: HOW???

said by hitachi369:

It could pick up the IR signals from the remote either way.

Only up/down with no reference level means absolutely nothing. Not to mention that the receiver may or may not catch signals intended for the TV and has no way of telling whether the TV has actually received them or not.
clone

join:2000-12-11
Portage, IN
Reviews:
·T-Mobile US

Re: HOW???

TiVo boxes already do this. Every time I adjust the volume or mute (with the TiVo remote that controls my AV receiver), it sends an extra command at the end telling the box that I adjusted the volume.

I know this because the TiVo has an LED on the front that lights up when a command is received, and it blinks every time you touch the volume controls. It also sends data in real time over the web back to its mothership when you do just about anything. I've had some fun with TiVo and wireshark...

cdru
Go Colts
Premium,MVM
join:2003-05-14
Fort Wayne, IN
kudos:7

Re: HOW???

...Or the led may just be an idiot light that says that it detected an IR signal, not that it does anything in particular with it. My HTPC has a IR receiver that blinks when it receives a signal, regardless if the computer actually does anything with it. It's actually pretty dumb as it indicates it picks up a lot of IR that ended up being IR noise coming from the plasma TV.
clone

join:2000-12-11
Portage, IN
Reviews:
·T-Mobile US

Re: HOW???

No, it's not the "IR Blaster" kind of LED. It only blinks when you adjust volume using the TiVo-specific remote. For example, you hold the "VOL -" button for 3 seconds, when you let go it blinks. You hit mute, it blinks. It does not blink when you adjust the volume using the AV receiver's remote or a universal remote. It does not blink when receiving "random IR", only when it processes a valid command.

The remote specifically sends a command to the box letting it know you've adjusted the volume. It is not doing any volume adjustment on the box itself, this is only for tracking purposes. Additionally, as I already noted, it also sends this information back to the home server, in real time. Any command you send the unit is tracked over the internet in real time. Pause a TV show? Data sent. Rewind a TV show? Data sent. Skip a commercial? Data sent.

If you know anyone who knows how to use a packet sniffer and has a TiVo (not sure about other DVRs), it really is astonishing how much live information is transmitted back to the home office.

If you use a universal or stock remote to adjust volume, they will not be able to track it. Additionally, they don't want to know "how loud" you're listening to the programs. They want to know what times you raise or lower the volume from whatever the baseline level you are listening to the program at. With enough of this kind of data in aggregate, it can be very valuable to advertisers.
SpHeRe31459

join:2002-10-09
Sacramento, CA
kudos:2

Re: HOW???

Very interesting, and rather disturbing that this is already implemented and without some kind of opt out. Is this disclosed anywhere in their terms of service? Like in some obscure clause? If not, I would imagine that's grounds for a law suit.
BiggA

join:2005-11-23
EARTH

Re: HOW???

If anyone uses a provider-owned DVR and expects it to NOT upload all their viewing habits, they are clearly an idiot.
jjeffeory

join:2002-12-04
USA
clone used wireshark to see that information does actually get sent back to TiVo.

cowboyro
Premium
join:2000-10-11
Shelton, CT
said by clone:

TiVo boxes already do this. Every time I adjust the volume or mute (with the TiVo remote that controls my AV receiver), it sends an extra command at the end telling the box that I adjusted the volume.

Only sooner or later the box *WILL* lose track of your actual volume as for sure the number of steps for volume is different for AV receiver and TV box.
Ex ATT box is at volume 25 (max) and home theater at volume 25 (max 60). You keep pressing the vol+ key. ATT box stays at 25, HT goes to 50. Press the vol- key, HT goes to 20 , ATT box stops at 0....

hitachi369
Embrace Your Rights
Premium
join:2001-10-03
Grand Rapids, MI
kudos:4

Re: HOW???

Each device's remote would be sending a different signal.
clone

join:2000-12-11
Portage, IN
Reviews:
·T-Mobile US

Re: HOW???

As I noted above, when using the remote that comes with the DVR, you will program it to control your audio device (TV or Receiver, whatever), then it will also send an extra command to the box to inform it you adjusted the volume.

Steps, etc. has no bearing. They only want to know at what times you raise, lower, or mute the sound. By how much, etc. is not important.

cowboyro
Premium
join:2000-10-11
Shelton, CT

Re: HOW???

said by clone:

As I noted above, when using the remote that comes with the DVR, you will program it to control your audio device (TV or Receiver, whatever), then it will also send an extra command to the box to inform it you adjusted the volume.

Steps, etc. has no bearing. They only want to know at what times you raise, lower, or mute the sound. By how much, etc. is not important.

I've just made a test and recorded the output of the remote (IR blasts) on the oscilloscope and compared to the remote of the AV receiver.
Let's put it this way: NO, IT DOESN'T SEND ANY DATA IT SHOULDN'T.
Case closed.
clone

join:2000-12-11
Portage, IN

Re: HOW???

You compared the output of the TiVo Premiere Series4 XL remote with a stock remote from an AV receiver and you didn't find any difference?

I don't believe for a second that you did that, or you would know you are incorrect.

cowboyro
Premium
join:2000-10-11
Shelton, CT

Re: HOW???

said by clone:

You compared the output of the TiVo Premiere Series4 XL remote with a stock remote from an AV receiver and you didn't find any difference?

I don't believe for a second that you did that, or you would know you are incorrect.

No, the output of the ATT remote. Remember the thread is about ATT, right?
clone

join:2000-12-11
Portage, IN
Reviews:
·T-Mobile US

Re: HOW???

I have no idea how ATT is implementing it.

I was commenting above on how TiVo has already implemented this function (and has been doing it for years). You even quoted my post where I said TiVo. But hey, no harm, no foul.

I would assume that AT&T would need to do something similar, unless they are actually including a microphone, which would be far more nefarious in my opinion, and definitely a reason to get rid of the box. The remote signal monitoring I can handle.
desarollo

join:2011-10-01
Monroe, MI
Actually it does. Over time, a relative level is established and that is perfectly fine to determine when programming might be objectionable, salacious, interesting, too quiet or whatever. I doubt they really care that you're listening to your TV at 23 db. They do care that you cranked up the volume to pay attention to the person singing country music on American Idol.

Well, that's not entirely true. Hearing aid companies might want to know the exact level, but I doubt anyone else cares. The rest of the data, when coupled with everything else collected, helps paint a clearer picture.

With that said, any DVR that does this is out the door.

cowboyro
Premium
join:2000-10-11
Shelton, CT

Re: HOW???

said by desarollo:

Actually it does. Over time, a relative level is established and that is perfectly fine to determine when programming might be objectionable, salacious, interesting, too quiet or whatever.

Or when the phone rings, or someone is talking, or you go to the kitchen... Yeah...
But anyway, in regards to ATT this is not the case since no info is being sent to the box.
BiggA

join:2005-11-23
EARTH
Exactly. It's all about relativism, as the absolute level is irrelevant, as one person might have a small TV in a small room, while another might be using a beefy 7.1 surround receiver in a large room that is pushing a lot of power out for a similar volume level at the user's ear.

This article is pretty pointless, since TiVo has been doing this for about a decade.

Riusaki

join:2000-09-14
Space

Volume

How does the DVR track how loud the volume is? Does it have a mic built in that picks up the sound from the TV? Is it somehow collecting this information through the HDMI cable in some way?

--
Make the homies say HO and the girlies wanna SCREAM!

Lark3po
Premium
join:2003-08-05
Madison, AL

Re: Volume

Maybe it has a built in SPL meter...

jseymour

join:2009-12-11
Waterford, MI

No Problem

Easy: Blackhole the DVR on your Internet/LAN border. Problem solved.

Oh, that's right: The "AT&" thing is TV-over-IP. Okay: Don't use the thing that calls itself "AT&T" these days. That would be, and is, my choice.

Jim

jgkolt
Premium
join:2004-02-21
Avon, OH

opt in

This should be opt in

Bill Neilson
Premium
join:2009-07-08
Arlington, VA

Re: opt in

said by jgkolt:

This should be opt in

Most if not all of these types of things should be "opt in" yet very rarely are they

cdru
Go Colts
Premium,MVM
join:2003-05-14
Fort Wayne, IN
kudos:7
You opted in when you signed up for service. It was the microprinting on the edge of page 897 of your service agreement.

XANAVirus
Premium
join:2012-03-03
Lavalette, WV
Reviews:
·Callcentric
·Comcast

Re: opt in

It was the fine print _within_ the fine print.
That *extra* small type, in micro-font so small that you need an extra strength magnifying glass to read it.

Of course, all this was totally covered in the disclaimer on page 1024 of the online-version [PDF] of the service agreement, which stated all this very clearly in legalize in 8-point font.

(Not. I'm kidding. )

dvd536
as Mr. Pink as they come
Premium
join:2001-04-27
Phoenix, AZ
kudos:4
said by jgkolt:

This should be opt in

but but but . . .
theres no money in opt in!
--
Despises any post with strings.

JimThePCGuy
Formerly known as schja01.
Premium,MVM
join:2000-04-27
Morton Grove, IL

Determining volume setting?

If you neglect to program the U-Verse remote to use your TV's volume it will use the DVR to control the volume in the signal sent to the TV. AT&T would have access to that information I suppose. I wonder how many subscribers don't program the U-Verse remote to control the volume via the TV? If you don't program the remote you can't use it to turn your TV on/off either so my guess is most do not use the DVR volume feature. I know the U-Verse installer programmed all my remotes as part of the installation.
Mr Matt

join:2008-01-29
Eustis, FL
kudos:1
Reviews:
·Millenicom
·Embarq Now Centu..
·Comcast
·CenturyLink

You have no rights to select how your usage data is used.

After the 2000 election the corporatist took over the government and allowed the corporations to do whatever they wanted to customers. Particularly the ISP's have engaged in increased snooping on customers. They can do this because they are a monopoly and have bought and paid for our lawmakers. Digital STB's have always accessed an authentication server to determine if the channel selected is authorized for viewing. At that point they can capture your viewing habits.
jjeffeory

join:2002-12-04
USA

Re: You have no rights to select how your usage data is used.

That is the opposite of privacy. 8-)
Buffy Solano

join:2012-11-06
Vallejo, CA

Cable / Uverse / Satellite

When cable providers switched away from self-contained decoding boxes to "digital" boxes, it became clear that all "encrypted" channels selected would be routed through the company computers for permission to decode (watch) that channel. This also meant that all choices could be monitored and a record kept. Currently, all all cable channels are encrypted.

Uverse follows the cable industry as the receiver (or DVR) communicates for permission to activate a channel.

Satellite receivers (and DVR's) that are not connected to a phone line only decode the subscribed channels. Special purchases require a connection to a phone line (or LAN / Internet). Special purchases can also be called-in with "permission" sent by satellite signal.

What baffles me is how the cable companies and Uverse are allowed to circumvent the Federal Wiretap Laws that have been in effect since 1920's.

My solution is simple. Do not subscribe to a service that can spy on you.

Majestik
World Traveler
Premium
join:2001-05-11
Tulsa, OK

Re: Cable / Uverse / Satellite

Never owned a DVR anyway.
Don't need it.
Don't own a TV.

I guess that's my solution.
--
The adventure continues...Sanctuary....

Morac
Cat god

join:2001-08-30
Riverside, NJ
kudos:1
Reviews:
·Comcast

TiVo has been doing this for years

TiVo has been tracking usage anonymously for years. Users can opt out if they want.

If AT&T allows users to opt out, I don't see a problem.
--
The Comcast Disney Avatar has been retired.

chip89
Premium
join:2012-07-05
Independence, OH

NSA

Considering this is coming from a company that give data to the NSA this is not a far shot at all.
rradina

join:2000-08-08
Chesterfield, MO

Volume Level

Lots of talk regarding detecting the remote infrared signal. How much information does the TV feed through the HDMI port?

Regardless, I'm not too worried about volume but a camera watching me to determine if a dog is in the room is creepy. However, a camera seems easy to defeat. Put a piece of tape over the lens.

If doing that somehow disables the remote control, then I would put the DVR inside a cabinet and buy one of those IR repeater devices that are designed to use a remote in another room. I'd just use it in the same room by sticking the blaster inside the cabinet with the DVR.

If the DVR is smart enough to require a heat signature in the room or it doesn't work, that would be harder to defeat but not impossible for the determined. One could quarantine it a spare room and use pillows wrapped in an electric blanket. Of course if it periodically requires the heat signature to move or it gets sophisticated enough to detect breathing/pulse ...... maybe it's time to quit watching TV!

IowaCowboy
Iowa native
Premium
join:2010-10-16
Springfield, MA
kudos:1
Reviews:
·Verizon Broadban..
·Comcast

Bring on the lawsuits

If Comcast were to put a camera on my DVR, I would file a lawsuit against them citing violations of the Peeping Tom statutes and other privacy laws.

The ones that would profit from the DVR cameras would be the attorneys and Comcast would have to raise rates as litigation is a cost of doing business.

Putting a camera in someone's living room in this context would be highly illegal under the laws of most states.

If cable wants to compete with IPTV (Netflix), get rid of advertising. Our cable subscriptions more than pay for the cost of content. The advertisers are wasting money as well as I don't buy any of the garbage advertised on cable.
--
I've experienced ImOn (when they were McLeod USA), Mediacom, Comcast, and Time Warner. They are much better than broadcast TV.

I have not and will not cut the cord.

•••••••
dkreck

join:2011-02-09
Bakersfield, CA

Cams

Oh come on. There's been a camera behind the dark red window on your cable box for years. They have all the pictures of what you do while watching porn.

motorola870

join:2008-12-07
Arlington, TX
kudos:3

nothing New TWC has been tracking users viewing habits

Time Warner cable came out with a statement in 2011 or 2012 saying that they were collecting viewing data of channels in Dallas, LA and some other markets.

Camaro
Question everything
Premium
join:2008-04-05
Westfield, MA
kudos:1

Time to build a new computer

I have always wanted an excuse to tell my wife that we need a new computer (HTPC) now I can, sweet. DVR rentals could also go down if this gets through some how.
Body Count

join:2010-09-11
Columbus, OH

So...

Whats stopping people from using a piece of black tape and taping over the video camera hole? Unless they put the camera right next to where the remote signals come in, I don't see how they can stop us from doing that. And I'm sure someone will make something that blocks the camera but lets remote signals pass through it.
Beezel

join:2008-12-15
Las Vegas, NV

Re: So...

So all you have to do is get a good green laser pointer and shine it into the camera. It will burn the CMOS sensor and disable the camera.
(hit the wrong reply button)

T Vough

@verizon.net

Track star

If you use the internet you're being tracked over far more than your tv viewing.

jester121
Premium
join:2003-08-09
Lake Zurich, IL

LMAO

Only Karl would post an attention-grabbing headline saying "This thing does something" and finish the story with "Well, it's not doing it yet, but it might, someday, maybe."