from the sorry-i-wasn't-paying-attention dept
You may recall the concern some have raised over Smart TVs, those internet connected glowing boxes with cameras ripe for exploits that would allow hackers to watch you watch TV. Supposedly less nefarious were concerns over technology that would allow those same Smart TVs to recognize when you had left the room or were looking away, subsequently dimming the screen to conserve energy. Whether or not either is a concern rising to the levels of epidemic privacy invasion, one thing that is clear is that the general public is a bit dubious about being monitored within their own living rooms.
With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how that same public reacts if Microsoft actually decides to implement the technology described in their shiny new patent application, which describes how the Xbox One console could monitor your body, eyes, and heartbeat to determine if you're actually watching advertising and then reward you for it with Xbox achievements.
The patent, snappily titled "Awards and achievements across TV ecosystem", describes camera sensors monitoring the eye movements and heartbeats of TV viewers. Which means a console will know if you're in the room when an ad break is on, or if you've popped out to make tea. It'll also be able to tell whether you're actually watching the ad or if you're engrossed in the latest issue of Heat magazine. And don't even think about gaming the system by watching telly with the lights off: the XBox would be able to monitor you even in the dark.While the above can be slightly misleading in that this is a patent application, not a granted patent, the response to it is the same. Fun, right? Here's the problem. I am aware that, at some level, everything about video games is reward-based. The obvious Xbox achievements are in place and people ostensibly seek them out, though I have yet to attain any modicum of understanding as to why people do this. Less obvious is the concept of gaming in general. Get to the next level. See that next cut-scene. Advance the plot. Unlock the new weapon, the new armor, or the new ability to shoot a bad guy directly in the balls. These are things that are important to gamers. It might therefore seem natural to build a rewards-based system for advertising as well within this audience.
Every move you make, every breath you take, the Xbox would be watching you – but also rewarding you. The patent suggests that sitting through commercial breaks would rack you up points to buy both virtual and physical awards. The thinking behind this being that people today need to be bribed in order to sit still and watch a commercial. As the patent application explains: "With the proliferation of digital video recording devices, advertisers are finding it increasingly difficult to introduce their advertisements to viewers."
Except advertisements are different, aren't they? If we're skipping ads, it's because they're an annoyance. Whereas stopping the bad guy, winning the World Series, or uncovering a mystery are all integral to the playing of whatever game we're enjoying, advertisements are, by definition, a break from what we're actually interested in doing. In fact, the label of "achievement" itself relating to watching advertising reeks of a gross misnomer. Granted, being able to stomach a minute's worth of Miss Cleo advertising may seem like a challenge, but it isn't an achievement in the same way.
More importantly, as the article notes, getting people to watch ads isn't a problem solved by some kind of Pavlovian reward system. It's solved by having creative, interesting, and entertaining ads.
The proliferation of digital video recording devices is something of a red herring when it comes to ad-viewing. After all, people aren't forced to skip the ads when they watch a time-shifted show; rather, they're free to watch them over and over again if they like. Just, err, most people don't like. Research conducted by Deloitte in 2010 found that 90% of TV viewers always skip through the adverts on their DVR. But the answer to stopping this behaviour doesn't lie in sophisticated motion-detecting technology, it lies in making ads that people actually want to watch. The biggest threat to advertising isn't technology like Sky+; the biggest threat to advertising is bad advertising.Because advertising is content and content is advertising. And these invalidating arguments are made without even bothering to touch upon the public's reaction to being watched through the all-seeing eye in Microsoft's device. In a world where authors like Rand and Orwell are well-read, I expect a line to be drawn between cameras in the public square and cameras within our own walls. That this would be done to solve a problem better solved through smarter means is a fact I hope won't be lost on anyone.