Lawmakers move to block black box recorders in cars, DVR snooping

Legislators also have privacy concerns about DVR viewer tracking

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A bill to stop your DVR from spying on you

On a separate matter, Capuano and Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), filed the "We Are Watching You Act" in response to reports that national telecommunications companies are exploring technology for DVRs that would record the personal activities of people as they watch television at home.

"This may sound preposterous, but it is neither a joke nor an exaggeration," Capuano said. "These DVRs would essentially observe consumers as they watch television as a way to super-target ads. It is an incredible invasion of privacy."

For example, late last year Verizon patented DVR technology that monitors viewer actions in order to better target advertisements.

Intel has announced plans for a media streaming service and DVR with a camera this year that will track with recognition technology similar to that used in Microsoft's Kinect box. Unlike Kinect, Intel's box won't track motion, it would identify users and bringing up preset configurations on the box, according to Jon Carvill, director of Intel corporate communications.

The "We Are Watching You Act" requires prior consent from the consumer before a behavior-tracking DVR can be installed in a home. The operator of the technology must provide specific details on how collected information will be used, and who will have access to the data.

When the recording device is in use, the words "WE ARE WATCHING YOU" would appear, large enough to be readable from a distance, for as long as the device is recording the viewing area. If consumers opt out of the new technology, companies are required to offer a video service that does not collect this information but is otherwise identical in all respects.

Paul O'Donovan, an analyst with Gartner's Consumer Electronics Research Group, agreed with Capuano that DVRs are indeed becoming a very invasive technology.

It "goes way beyond the service provider monitoring what you're watching in order to offer recommendations or targeted advertising," he said. "That is already common place especially on sites like Amazon. But this is quite different, very invasive.... I'm not at all surprised that it [the legislation] is being proposed."

O'Donovan referenced Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing game controller systems and how they could be used to track user's activity. But he said it remains unclear how images or audio, especially in the volumes that would be collected by millions of game owners, would be analyzed.

"Are there going to be rooms full of people watching the TV viewers in their homes, deciding what they are doing then deciding which adverts to show them?" he said. "This seems very subjective, expensive and not particularly efficient given the number of subscribers. So I suspect this is a technology that is unlikely to penetrate the market in any kind of volume in the near future."

Capuano, however, said that while DVR technology is in its early stages, it is important that Congress establish clear boundaries now before it becomes reality.

"Right now, there is nothing preventing companies from utilizing the technology, no obligation to notify the consumer before it is used and no obligation to give consumers the chance to opt out," Capuano's office said in a statement.

This article, Lawmakers move to block black box recorders in cars, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at  @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

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