by Mike Masnick
Thu, Jan 15th 2009 10:50pm
Ryan Radia takes a look at the news that cable TV providers are teaming up to track viewing habits and questions whether or not there's a real privacy issue there. He comes to the conclusion that there isn't one for a few reasons. First, he notes that the data is anonymized and aggregated. That's true, but not very convincing. We've seen over and over again that there's no such thing as an anonymized dataset. There's almost always something in the data that can reveal at least some of the participants. Perhaps that's more difficult with things TV watching habits -- but not impossible. Next, he points out that the legal and PR impact of any real privacy violation would be pretty damaging on these companies. Finally, he suggests that the benefits of the tracking outweigh any negatives -- which, again is not very convincing. Just because a company can better target ads to you doesn't seem like an excuse to give up your privacy. That said, I do tend to agree that this isn't much of a privacy violation at all, but if the cable companies were smart, they should at least be extremely upfront about how the process works, and let people voluntarily "opt-in" to it, rather than being forced to join. Hell, they can offer incentives to do so. It's worked for AC Nielsen for years.
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