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Now Your Television Will Watch You

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Click here for a demo of this new system; note the camera, watching you, prominently displayed on the top of the television.

The gentleman above is giving an audience demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas a few days ago of a new device that he thinks you’ll want in your home very soon; a television that watches you.

As Nick Hide in CNet writes, “In the kind of dystopian insanity that would have George Orwell banging his head on his keyboard, Samsung’s newest Smart TVs watch you . . . the Korean manufacturer’s latest tellies recognise your voice and gestures with a built-in camera and mic.

The camera can interpret simple gestures — move your hand around to control a cursor and clench your fist to ‘click’ — and even the different faces of your family members. You can associate permissions with various faces, so if your wee one turns on the telly they’ll only be able to watch CBeebies.

Voice recognition means you can tell your TV which channel you want to watch and change volume, among other functions, which sounds like a really useful feature for people with disabilities, those who’ve lost their remote . . .”

And as Michael Learmonth notes in Advertising Age, “front-facing cameras are everywhere on laptops, tablets and phones. If the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was any indication, [which ran from January 10-13, 2012] they’re about to become ubiquitous on TVs as well.

New TVs from Samsung and Lenovo used the show to introduce TVs that recognize you and others in the room, automatically logging you into Facebook and pulling up your favorite channels or websites [emphasis added]. Lenovo’s TV lets you use the camera as an ID service that blocks access to certain content or channels if a child is in the room. For Samsung’s 7500 and 8000 series TVs, all you have to do is say ‘Hi, TV,’ when you walk into a room for the TV to turn on and know who’s there.

As one can imagine, this is all very exciting to the world’s biggest advertisers, many of whom saw these new applications for the first time this week when they toured the show floor. These are the execs who spend billions on TV advertising but really don’t know who’s in the room when their ads air — or whether their intended audience is busy with a mobile phone or tablet anyway.

‘Is anyone watching? This is why advertisers are so excited about front-facing cameras,’ Frank Barbieri, exec VP of emerging platforms at Yume, told a group of ad agency execs and clients during a tour. Yume powers advertising on smart TVs from Samsung and LG.

Many people in the living room are multitasking with other devices. ‘We’re paying for that,’ said Rex Harris, innovations supervisor at SMGX, a unit of ad agency holding company Publicis Groupe. ‘If you’re looking at other screens, then you’re not paying attention. We would like to know if we’re getting accurate impressions.’

Consumers stand to gain too, according to Mr. Harris [emphasis added]. ‘The idea is, if the ad is more targeted to you, you will get more value out of it,’ he said. ‘When your device knows where you are and knows what you like, it will be a more valuable experience for you.’”

Right. Just imagine when this becomes the new default television system; Orwellian beyond anyone’s possible dreams. Automatically logs you into Facebook via facial recognition, watches you watching the television, and keeps tabs on you if your attention strays to something like reading a book.

The scariest thing for me is that I predict that most people will simply fall in line with this, convinced that it’s the next big thing, and convinced that it makes them part of a virtual community. Nonsense – this is simply advertising and data mining at its most intrusive, and anyone who agrees to this system becomes a target for a totalitarian regime.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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