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Big Brother really is watching you - and he ain't a commie!

By Jim Bray
April 13, 2017

A special TechnoFile rant.

Did you know that when you're watching your favourite TV program, your TV program could be watching you as well?

It's true, if you believe what a company called FlySwipe is selling. That's because, according to a press release coming from the upcoming National Association of Broadcasters convention, broadcasters and marketers now have the ability to know exactly who's watching a program thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence technology.

FlySwipe says they can use facial recognition and "big data" to help the broadcasters and advertisers figure out exactly which commercial a particular viewer should be shown, based on the viewer's age and gender. On the upside, perhaps, they say the technology can also limit adult-oriented ads while there are kids in the viewing room.

"This changes the way that advertisers can reach their intended audience while viewing TV in a group setting," says William Delisi, managing partner and architect of the Audience Recognition Technology platform called A.R.T.. "Prior to this technology, you would not know who in the household is watching and could never use household ad targeting effectively." The platform, which was developed by FlySwipe, will debut at the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas later this month. 


According to the release, marketers already gather plenty of data on TV subscribers (they call them "attributes"), including "digital viewing habits, internet activity", "buying habits and public records." Broadcasters are now apparently transferring this methodology (or something similar) to the digital world, with ad placement that assumes the person watching (logged in or using a smart device) is the same one who generated those particular "attributes."

It sounds kind of analogous to the ads you see in your web browser, which can be targeted based on your browsing history. This is why you may see ads sometimes for a site you visited in the past, and it's yet another reason to exploit "private browsing" if you have the capability with your browser and don't want to leave tracks - because it's nobody's damn business.

This is where the A.R.T. platform comes in. "The solution is to understand who is watching the content at any particular time," the release goes on to day, with no "well, duh" added. So A.R.T. is designed to distinguish everyone in the viewing audience, matching multiple attributes against the selection of ads ready to be inflicted on you.

Why? "The reliance on content to determine the Advertisement no longer works," the release says. In other words, the days of advertisers throwing ads at the TV in the hope that someone will find it relevant, may be on the way out. For example, "providing a commercial of women's perfume fragrances to a male audience is not effective and would not happen when the A.R.T. platform is being utilized," the release says. "The platform also can determine a mixed gender audience, or a mixed age group, and act accordingly to deploy the proper advertisement based on a brand's requirement."

Of course, this means the male who's looking for a women's perfume fragrance as a gift could be excluded from the targeting - and how about the homosexual male who wants to smell absolutely fabulously during that Pride parade? Or how about the woman who wants to buy a new power saw for hubby's birthday? Or for herself? Will she not get any decent suggestions while watching "Last Man Standing?"

While obtrusive, the technology promises to be painless for the viewer. "Marketers can acquire feedback from the TV audience without any interaction," the release says, and (I speculate here, based on experience and intelligence) without their knowledge or consent. The info gleaned this way can be sent to the marketer to, according to the release, "determine if the correct response was anticipated. This same technique can be used by publishers to determine how a scene affects the TV subscriber. The platform can also determine if anyone is even watching the commercial or show that is being broadcast."

Are you feeling more like a guinea pig, or a pawn of Big Hollywood yet?

"Another benefit to the subscriber is the ability to freeze the broadcast of any adult content that is being watched if a child simply walks into the room," the release goes on to say. "The same security check can be used to stop children from using their parent's login credentials to view pay or adult content. Logging into protected content is accomplished by simply looking at the TV screen."

This may not sound too bad, but since when is it the broadcaster's business to monitor this stuff? Or is it just a way to make the guinea pigs feel a little less manipulated, the cynic in me asks.

"The increase in TV everywhere subscribers, OTT platforms, streaming digital set top boxes and mobile devices is opening up new ways to improve and manage security, advertising, publishing and broadcast controls," added the above-quoted Mr. Delisi. "FlySwipe is on the forefront of delivering state of the art broadcast technology using AI and facial recognition to meet the demands of this trend."

As much as I love technology and the free market - both of which are neither good nor bad (it's how they're used that matter) - this particular bit of Big Brother seems like yet another strategy to exploit the public while allowing the broadcasters and advertisers to become even lazier as they lean on the technology to replace what used to be real work and conscious thought.

Perhaps an upside is that the scheme probably won't work on a family gathered around the big screen - at least it won't until they start patching into webcams built into some TV's, assuming they don't already!

Where does this end?

Paranoia on my part? Perhaps. But do you trust these people?

Of course it's all about money, and I have no issue with money (I've heard there is such a thing…). But how about earning your money, rather than just finding newer and sneakier ways to generate it?

Broadcasters are already being outrageously intrusive - and greedy - by putting ad billboards across the bottom of the screen during a show's broadcast, instead of just having their ads shown during the commercial breaks as was traditional until a few years ago. I wonder if this extra assault - which can block a show's credits with a billboard (forget about seeing who that guest star is, or who wrote the episode) - is one reason why more and more people seem to be abandoning network broadcasts in favour of services such as Netflix. After all, you can only be treated as a wallet for so long.

I don't know, but I know I'm getting less tolerant of such schemes every year. Hopefully, you are, too, and one of these days such schemes will blow up in the schemers' faces.

Copyright 2017 Jim Bray

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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