Future Zone: media, corporations, government, privacy

Mad Magazine spy-vs-spyFor the new year, a few from the future shock files that are good for parents and everyone to be aware of.

Will your device spy on you while you watch TV?

All I can say is, if you’re not freaked out yet, you’re not paying attention.

Verizon has filed a patent application for a system – apparently a set-top box that delivers media content – that can collect information from the room in front of it with infrared cameras, microphones and other devices to detect what people are doing and even their mood, and then target ads to them based on that information.

For example, if you are humming a happy song, the system may determine you are in a cheerful mood and present advertisements that are configured to target happy people. It actually says this in the patent application.

Or the system might detect that a couple is arguing with each other, and select an advertisement associated marriage or relationship counseling. Alternatively, if it detects that two viewers are cuddling on a couch during a television program, those viewers would be treated to commercials for a romantic getaway vacation, contraceptive, flowers, or a trailer for an upcoming romantic comedy movie.

And most convenient of all, if the system determines you are holding a mobile device, the system may direct the mobile device to present the selected advertisement.

It’s for your benefit, they’ll argue. You won’t need to be annoyed by ads that aren’t relevant to you. You’ll get nicely target and selected ads, just for you. I’m willing to have a camera and microphone watch me at home for that benefit, aren’t you?

So there’s corporate surveillance, and also there’s government surveillance.

No warrant no problem: How the government can still get your digital data.

While you might wonder if your TV is watching you, there are already plenty of legal ways for law enforcement, from the local sheriff to the FBI, to snoop on the digital trails you create every day. Take a look.

And then there’s surveillance by anybody that can afford a $300 drone that takes video. Maybe you got one for Christmas. This article from PBS’s MediaShift talks about the ethics of journalist use of drones, which is already happening.

Concern raised by the prospect of drones used in journalism are “rooted in a larger and deeper concern about the entanglement of media and technology. From the relentless tracking of Princess Diana to the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal, people are concerned not simply about the use of tech tools to invade privacy. The concern is actually about the transformation of reporting into surveillance.”

Mediashift argues for an ethics policy for journalistic use of this technology. But it’s hard to see how such a policy would have any widespread tempering effect, when the journalistic sphere is scattered among so many outlets. The ethics policy that the New York Times adopts and enforces among its reporters will not necessarily guide the actions of an individual blogger, and at $300 for a drone, the price won’t be the obstacle.

[Updated 2/3/2013:  Slate: Congressional Research Service report on new laws needed to cover stalking, voyeurism, trespassing by drones.]

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