DVRs submitting personal user information

Fans of digital video recorders that allow television viewers to skip commercials are most likely not going to be happy with TiVo, the leading manufacturer of such devices, declaring they will start their own user-targeted advertising. But even more questionable is that TiVo has said it plans to mine user info and sell the information to advertisers. Such an action would be an infringement of user privacy.

There are several DVR manufacturers. While TiVo is the market leader and their devices are included in such services as DirectTV, others, such as ReplayTV, are rapidly catching up.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a study conducted by Forrester Research suggests that while presently only 5 percent of television-viewing Americans own such devices, that number is likely to increase to 42 percent over the next five years.

Most of these devices allow for commercials to be skipped entirely or at least fast-forwarded through easily, a feature 92 percent of users utilize according to a recent study conducted by Forrester Research. It is therefore understandable that companies are looking for new and more effective ways to advertise their products.

The devices are so popular because they allow time-shifting of television programs by allowing users to record individual shows, or even entire seasons of shows, whenever they air, to be watched whenever the owner of the unit feels like it.

This has the chance of revolutionizing television viewing habits, but since program data, including which parts of shows are fast-forwarded through or even which parts are watched repeatedly (such as the “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl halftime show) is sent back to the provider of the service, there is also the chance that information the owner of the unit might rather not share could be transmitted.

There are other ways of getting television shows. The increasing bandwidth readily available to Internet users — USF students being no exception — practically begs to be exploited. The most widely used method of illegally downloading shows is via a program called BitTorrent. Small files are uploaded to Web sites that then link to privately owned computers that share a particular file. It is virtually impossible to shut down such networks, as they do not rely on a singular server but rather an indefinite number of end users. According to a recent story by Reuters, such file sharing already accounts for 35 percent of all data traffic on the Internet.

Similar to the Recording Industry Association of America increasing the price of CDs to make up for illegal file sharing — a practice that further increased file sharing, as consumers are unwilling to pay the higher prices — DVR service providers run the risk of pushing consumers toward illegal methods and losing them as customers.