The DVR That Watches You Back: Verizon Applies For 'Ambient Action' Detecting Device Patent

from the comes-with-pair-of-glue-on-googly-eyes-to-make-product-seem-fun-and-less-creepy dept

Here's another patent application to keep an eye on, following on the heels of Microsoft's patent app for a TV that counts noses in order to charge each viewer for content, potentially turning your living room into something akin to a porn store viewing booth or bus stop TV — “please insert $2 to continue viewing.” Verizon's patent application also involves a device eyeballing your living room, this time in an effort to target advertising.

Verizon's living room intruder is a DVR that observes “ambient action,” identifies it and scans its ad database for an appropriate ad to serve up during the next commercial break. This sounds about as creepy as an ad exec watching you through your open living room drapes in order to decide which flyers to shove in your mailbox. Rest assured, Verizon's use of the phrase “ambient action” is designed for maximum innocuousness. It's not until you get to the list of possible “ambient actions” that the creep factor really kicks in.

[0016] To illustrate, an exemplary ambient action may include the user eating, exercising, laughing, reading, sleeping, talking, singing, humming, cleaning, playing a musical instrument, performing any other suitable action, and/or engaging in any other physical activity during the presentation of the media content. In certain examples, the ambient action may include an interaction by the user with another user (e.g., another user physically located in the same room as the user). To illustrate, the ambient action may include the user talking to, cuddling with, fighting with, wrestling with, playing a game with, competing with, and/or otherwise interacting with the other user. In further examples, the ambient action may include the user interacting with a separate media content access device (e.g., a media content access device separate from the media content access device presenting the media content). For example, the ambient action may include the user interacting with a mobile device (e.g., a mobile phone device, a tablet computer, a laptop computer, etc.) during the presentation of a media content program by a set-top box (“STB”) device.

It looks as though Verizon has carefully avoided naming any other ambient actions that viewers may not want to have “watched back,” like “having sex with,” “fighting with,” “yelling at,” “masturbating to,” “Farmvilleing at” or “blogging about.” All joking aside, it's a bit disconcerting that Verizon's main concern isn't the potential privacy violations, but rather that its customers just aren't watching TV hard enough.

[T]raditional targeted advertising systems and methods fail to account for one or more ambient actions of a user while the user is experiencing media content using a media content access device. For example, if a user is watching a television program, a traditional targeted advertising system fails to account for what the user is doing (e.g., eating, interacting with another user, sleeping, etc.) while the user is watching the television program. This limits the effectiveness, personalization, and/or adaptability of the targeted advertising.

I suppose that, in this era of “second screens” and “promiscuous 'cuddling' teens,” it's tough to get the sort of “captive audience” that advertisers (and the companies that sold customers to them) used to take for granted. The bold, new paradigm is the “observed audience,” an innocuous phrasing in itself. The “tracked audience.” The “surveilled audience.” These terms are a little more accurate, especially considering how much information Verizon covers under the pillow-soft, marketing-friendly, customer-disarming term “ambient.”

[0019] Detection facility 104 may be additionally or alternatively configured to analyze data received by way of a detection device in order to obtain information associated with a user, an ambient action of the user, a user's surroundings, and/or any other information obtainable by way of the data. For example, detection facility 104 may analyze the received data utilizing one or more motion capture technologies, motion analysis technologies, gesture recognition technologies, facial recognition technologies, voice recognition technologies, acoustic source localization technologies, and/or any other suitable technologies to detect one or more actions (e.g., movements, motions, gestures, mannerisms, etc.) of the user, a location of the user, a proximity of the user to another user, one or more physical attributes (e.g., size, build, skin color, hair length, facial features, and/or any other suitable physical attributes) of the user, one or more voice attributes (e.g., tone, pitch, inflection, language, accent, amplification, and/or any other suitable voice attributes) associated with the user's voice, one or more physical surroundings of the user (e.g., one or more physical objects proximate to and/or held by the user), and/or any other suitable information associated with the user.

There's also wording in the application regarding recognizing the tune a viewer is humming and reacting accordingly (presumably by contacting the nearest PRO and reporting an unlicensed public performance). It also leaves the option open for detecting other animate and inanimate objects, including pets and branded products. And, like Microsoft's application, Verizon's suggests the system will be able to distinguish between adults and children and activate parental controls.

This being Verizon, the advertising watch-and-push isn't limited to the all-seeing DVR. The user's phone or tablet will most likely be receiving additional advertising or content based on what “ambient actions” are detected. I can only imagine the delighted thrill of customers watching their DVR shove ads onto their phones simply because they weren't paying enough attention to the ad on the TV screen.

Once again, this is nothing more than a patent application, which doesn't necessarily mean this product will ever make it to market, USPTO 'OK' or not. But it does give you some idea of Verizon's theories on where targeted advertising is headed.

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Comments on “The DVR That Watches You Back: Verizon Applies For 'Ambient Action' Detecting Device Patent”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Which customers would want this?

Ever since I heard about Internet connected televisions I have been recommending to anyone that will listen that they do not want such a thing. This would give the TV company the ability to force a new firmware and maybe remove some feature that was promised prior to sale (think Sony). Who would knowingly put themselves in such a position?

With this, the buyer would be giving Verizon (or other, as someone else will make such a device in such a way that it does not violate this patent) that will literally spy on you 24/7/365. Who would want that? Putting a piece of tape over the camera lens (remember that fix for the flashing VCR clock that was never right?) would only be a partial fix as there appears to be a microphone listening as well. Who wants to be spied upon?

Another thought. Put one of these devices in a state such as Massachusetts where any recording needs to be notified to all parties. Would Verizon be liable for illegal wiretap?

I see what value Verizon would find in such a product. What is the benefit to the end user?

Anonymous Coward says:

i see a scandal in the wings

And how secure would a system like this be? How many times have we seen reports of hackers making off with user’s data? Just wait til you see an exec break the news that a hacker may have pulled several hours of activity from their users. Granted, hackers mostly look for financial info but we’ve seen phone hacking and email scandals from corporate execs.

out_of_the_blue says:

Worried about "targeted advertising"? What about Google?

“Monetizing” YOU is the goal of teh internets. There’s no way to stop this without raising awareness until everyone takes a firm stance that corporations don’t have a right to watch and track persons even if some alleged agreement is in place, or even… if there’s “no evidence of real harm”. The trend is clear: let’s be smart and not wait until reaches the point of “real harm”.

Verizon like all corporations is allowed to exist only so long as please the public; we can demand they offer products without any tracking at all, let alone these new levels, or we toss all the corporate officers into jail and liquidate the assets to finance our indig-nation. (Pun, get it?) Just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s legal. We must move to explicit and informed opt-IN as the default EVERYWHERE, not let gov’t and corporations continue to deploy machines against us.

Anonymous Coward says:


I’ve seen one report that this patent has already been rejected by the patent office. I’ve not seen any other articles to corroborate this.

If it has been rejected, let’s hope it remains that way. The Microsoft equivalent should be rejected also.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Rejected?

I’ve seen one report that this patent has already been rejected by the patent office. I’ve not seen any other articles to corroborate this.

Yes, a non-final rejection was issued on November 15th, but that’s kinda meaningless. If you look at nearly every patent these days, they seem to go through a few rounds of both “non-final” and “final” rejections — but there IS NO SUCH THING as a TRUE final rejection at the USPTO. You can simply continue to adjust the applications with no limit on times you can resubmit.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is a pretty fucking good reason to turn to piracy. I’ve not had a TV in years and it seems it was the correct move on my part. Although I don’t rely on piracy since Netflix covers my needs pretty well. If they follow suit in some way it would be the next step.

I could not be trusted with a DVR with such capabilities in the first place. I cannot help myself when it comes to tinkering with every electronic device I own. “Both hardware and software.”

If something went into play it’s sad that the people like me would not have to deal with these problems as there is always a way around them. I’m not the only person that deserves the respect to not be fucked with by a company. Every single person on this planet deserves the same. However the way shit is going it seems the people less adapted to technology will pay for it in the future.

If it does happen you can be sure plenty of people like me will always be fighting for a way around it legally or illegally. I have zero respect for laws that allow anything that interferes with our rights that we’re born with.

Anonymous Coward says:

If this ever came to be, we’d then hear their cries as they’d be able to see how everyone gets up and goes to the bathroom or kitchen during commercial breaks. I can see the “copyright infringement” lawsuits already, claiming people are “stealing” their product by watching the programing but not the commercials, though they’d essentially be paying for the service and the right to be spied on. What could be a bigger waste of a courts time then having thousands of people dragged into court with the same defense… “But I had to pee!”

I know I sure as hell wouldn’t let one of these devices into my home. When do you suppose all these different company executives will come to the realization that THEY are the reason why piracy is so appealing to so many people?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

When do you suppose all these different company executives will come to the realization that THEY are the reason why piracy is so appealing to so many people?

They won’t. These people are Extroverts: they would never consider that they might be the problem, only that anyone & everyone else could be.

M. Alan Thomas II (profile) says:


“A traditional targeted advertising system fails to account for what the user is doing (e.g., eating, interacting with another user, sleeping, etc.).”

Wait, sleeping? What ads do they think I should be watching when I’m asleep? Are they going for subliminal advertising or just jacking up the volume to make me wake up?

Anonymous Coward says:

Why would I want one of these? I cut the cable and the tv 10 years ago and today don’t own a tv and don’t want one. Between really poor programming and obnoxious commercials, there is absolutely no way I would have one of these in my home even if they were giving them away.

To put it bluntly, I HATE A COMMERCIAL with a passion.

You always hear that ads make things cheaper. Exactly when was the last time your bill went down because the company was getting money from the commercials?

A hole in the head would be of more use than this spy.

Anonymous Coward says:

1. Cable TV becomes increasingly obsolete.
2. Cameras and microphones added to TVs to improve targetted advertising.
3. In the face of death, TV industries lobby the government into making television a manditory, taxpayer-funded “free” utility.
4. Several decades later, the NSA finally notices that there are now microphones and cameras operating 24/7 in everyone’s house at the beck and call of companies in bed with the government.
5. Nineteen Eighty-Four

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Why stop there?

– Decency nuts groups would lobby for every state to have it force Verizon to install facial recognition software that can gauge age based on facial features and make it liable if inappropriate content is shown to them.

– Copytards would lobby congress to force verizon to save logs of whom watched what so they can use those things in court to prosecute “pirates”.

eLoL (evil Laughing out Loud)

Anonymous Coward says:

2. Cameras and microphones added to TVs to improve targetted advertising.

Like I said, just put a piece of adhesive tape over the camera to put it out of commission, so they cannot see how many of you are there.

And as for the Microphone, just open open your TV or DVR, find the wires going to the mic and snip them, putting the mic out of commission.

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

1984 in 2013

Other than the offer of free cable service (which is a winning idea), I don’t see any reason for consumers to want to opt in to such a feature. Nor do I see an upside to my TV having a cam that anyone can hack into.

Absent an absolutely AMAZING marketing campaign, this appears to be the best reason for cord cutting.

The obvious downside to this is EVERY intelligence agency on the planet salivating at the chance to manipulate state laws to gain access. For the children, to stop terrorism.

Anonymous Coward says:


How to bypass the tape hack:

– If the recognition software doesn’t see anything it doesn’t turn on.

– If you put a photo with people in there, the software could be programmed to search for movement.

– If you feed video stream the software could be programmed to search for repetition patterns.

– Cutting the mic can be dealt with requiring the mic to announce itself to the equipment if it is not there the TV doesn’t turn on.

This simple steps would disable 99% of the population from tampering with that box unless it had and addon.

But I wonder why buy an expensive TV with internet, picture in picture and other stuff that can all be added to a cheap-o screen with a simple Raspberry Pi running XMBC or something like it? You could even print a case that attached itself to the TV and would be hidden from view, plus using a Raspberry Pi you can buy addons like cameras and mics to plug it in that you know will all be “clean”.

I just saw a 35″ LED backlight for $300 bucks, plus the Raspberry PI would cost less than $400 to have the equivalent of a $1000 dollar equipment with reduced risks of wiretapping.

Anonymous Coward says:

1984 in 2013

Governments are not the only threat there, special groups also would want access to it and some may even want Verizon to pay them and use that feed to calculate the cost, which would mean people lobbying for governments to enact laws to enable them to do so.

Decency nuts could go crazy and force Verizon to replicate the feed or have a filter installed so that every time a “known” indecent video appears it snaps a photo of whom it is sitting there if the software recognizes minors in the room, or copyright holders wanting to know how much to charge wants a head count of their shows, which they then would complain that they can’t trust Verizon to do the right thing and will ask for a copy of the raw feed so they can “analyze it” to make sure they are not being cheated.

Panic people would ask for it to have recognition capabilities to find missing people and criminals sitting in front of a TV with the support from law enforcement.

Heck that thing is scary.

The Real Michael says:

It’s only a matter of time before we read a report about law enforcement agencies accessing these devices because they’re looking for the boogeyman.

Anyone who willfully installs this technology in their homes, quite frankly, deserves it. The fact that someome would be willing to pay a corporation to monitor them 24/7 so that they can profile them and their family, then sell that info to interested parties, is the height if stupidity. Ditto for so-called home *security* cameras. A camera is powerless — it will not stop a criminal. It will only allow for unseen eyes to watch you in your home. With or without cameras, the police will arrive after the crime has already been committed. Sceurity is just an illusion.

Mike (profile) says:

Ignore the utility for a sec...

I know patents like this get approved all the time, but I still don’t understand. I thought that a patent was for an invention which someone in the field should be able to duplicate/build based on the information in the patent?!

detection facility 104 may analyze the received data utilizing one or more motion capture technologies, motion analysis technologies, gesture recognition technologies, facial recognition technologies, voice recognition technologies, acoustic source localization technologies, and/or any other suitable technologies to detect one or more actions

This reads more like an idea that enumerates a lot of other ideas on how the prime idea may be accomplished.

In my mind this is incredibly far from a concrete invention, and is an attempt to patent an idea.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Which customers would want this?

What is the benefit of letting Google read your email?

An email service that has no monetary cost to the end user, is highly reliable, and has effectively unlimited storage.

If Verizon wants to offer a no cost equivalent to cable TV, included DVR with effectively unlimited storage, access to library with nearly all video content I could ever want, then I would seriously consider their offer even if it included a box that spied on me.

Chilly8 says:

– If the recognition software doesn’t see anything it doesn’t turn on.

Some hacker somewhere will eventually figure out a way around that. Someone could easily make money off of circunventing that. Someone could set up a TV shop in Mexico that offers that kind of service, and there is not much the TV makers could do about it.

Someone who knew what they are doing could hack the software.

Anonymous Coward says:


And there is another way. You can literally “gum up” the mic. You could open up the case and put some chewing gum over the mic and put the mic out of commission. The software will never know that the mic has been gummed up, literally, because the mic will still announce itself when the device is turned on.

gorehound (profile) says:

Which customers would want this?

This type of Tech is WRONG and it comes right out of 1984.TV’s that watch you 24/7 and you know these devices will eventually.First these lowlife Tech Geeeks in those Corporations will sell out and come up with this invasive privacy destroying system and they will do it just like Oppenheimer and crew invented the Atomic Bomb.

Next the US Gov will tell these Corps that they have to build a backdoor in their Software because of blah blah blah terrorism and save the children.

Then the Device will not only phone home to the Corp but it will also be abused by the Gov.

And the Tech Geeks who sold out to come up with the system will feel bad but they will take home their fat paychecks and buy some new Computer Hardware for their cool Linux Server.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just imagine the bonanza this is will provide your local police department. Certainly they will be given access to the DVR-SPYCAMs located throughout all the sports bars in town. Maybe the uber software developers at Verizon can program excessive drinking recognition.

I can imagine there would be a recognition program specially designed for use at Hooters.

Mega1987 (profile) says:

So… They will go and break our personal privacy of our homes just to have some charge on their advertisement while we’re doing something? Even the person is not ACTIVELY watching the TV?

The only thing missing is that they eye ball at us, while a television is running and we’re in a bathroom, taking a bath or just doing business on our royal throne… For a free ecchi scene in their eyes AND charge us…

Next IDIOTIC idea please? for the LULZ…

1Maenad (profile) says:

What's Not Being Said...

My friend: “F*** this. I don’t want them watching me ride my husband on the sofa.”

Me: …and if they are watching and recording it, could they release the video, “Jill Rides Bobby Hard”?

My friend: “I don’t mind the sharing, but if somebody is gonna make money then my vagina deserves to be paid.”

Me: I nominate you for the best actress in the adult film awards! You moan like a champion!

My friend: “So you heard me last night?”

Me: Everyone in my neighborhood said they saw it on their Verizon. I guess you missed it since you and the hubby were obviously busy! LOL

…but seriously, could something like this eventually come down the pike? If they record what you doing what’s to stop them from going a step further and releasing video. It sounds absurd now but where are the boundaries?


Re: Lock it in the basement

> However, it seems like you could just put the thing in an enclosure in the basement and use an IR replicator to control the device. Cameras and mics on the DVR could enjoy the furnace and sump pump in the basement.

Capital idea!

It certainly has the potential of giving an entirely new meaning to the term “media room”.

A. Nnoyed (profile) says:

The DVR that watches you back.

A reinvention of an old scheme. The Welcome Wagon did most of this manually. The Welcome Wagons local office collected lists of new residents, renters or homeowners, in their area from the Telephone Company or other Utility Companies and sent representatives to spy on them. The Welcome Wagons representative would knock on the residents door and offer them a gift usually a basket of fruit. Once they entered the residents home they would grill the resident to learn as much as possible about them. The conversation appeared to be small talk but was actually a script designed to squeeze as much information out of the resident possible. Welcome Wagon then sold these reports to those that subscribed to Welcome Wagon Reports.

Verizon’s technology can be applied to any Set Top Box, it does not have to be a DVR. If you think you can place tape over the camera lens to block their snooping, all they have to do is make the camera the remote control receiver.

Susie says:

If Verizon is seriously looking to lose customers this would be the way to do it. No way am I letting them put that crap in my house. There will be other companies who respect a customers privacy ready and willing to step in and take Verizon’s business away because there will be plenty of people who won’t accept Verizon’s creepy intrusive technology.

Seriously though people need to be more security aware. Put a sticker over the camera on your laptop. If you have a TV with a camera cover the camera except for when you want to use it.

Anonymous Coward says:

you folks are nuts…. your totally missing the point this is invasion of privacy in the worst way. you should be having a fit and super mad. but instead your just saying things like oh well i hope i can switch it off… wtf. no wonder the world is going down hill and once strong countries are all but full blown communist. i will make this clear knowledge can be sued for evil and a device that tracks records and re sales things from inside your private home are evil period. that ends all privacy. at that point we will be little labs rats for the govt and for the big money a holes. one will not be in my home.

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