edited by David Burke
ISBN: 1 899866 25 6
Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
What is wrong with interactive television?
It has been designed from the beginning to gather information about people in their own homes. Using the TV's return path, and artificial intelligence, interactive TV providers do demographic, lifestyle, market segmentation and psychographic analysis of your viewing habits. Such analyses can be combined with externally available data to create an intimate picture of who you are and what motivates you.
Isn't interactive TV just like a supermarket loyalty card?
The mechanism is similar, but interactive television is many times more intrusive. The types of analysis that can be done with viewing data are more personal, and the types of manipulation possible are more varied and powerful. Nobody spends four hours a night in their supermarket, nor do they get all their news about the world there. No supermarket loyalty card can record everything you see and hear, nor can the entire shopping environment be changed to influence your individual behaviour.
Isn't interactive TV just like the internet?
The internet and interactive TV share certain functionality. But interactive TV makes some of the privacy problems of the internet worse, while introducing dangerous new ones.
What can anyone really tell about me from my TV viewing?
Television providers themselves are excited about the detailed information they can gather from people over years of viewing. Not only will people answer questions about themselves on the screen, but everything they do can be analysed to create a profile of who they are.
Doesn't the law protect against this kind of thing?
Some countries, such as members of Europe, are protected by data protection laws. Other countries, such as the United States, are not. But even countries that have data protection laws have not come to grips with this new technology. Many of the decisions about what regulations shall be in force and how they shall be applied are being taken right now. The providers of interactive television hope to make the observation of people in their own homes seem normal and publicly acceptable, while they have the chance.
Why is this a problem if the TV is just selling me things I might want?
Even if that was all the TV did, there would be a problem. Privacy in the home is a 600 year old concept that is fundamental to democracy. With the advent of computers that can monitor and respond to the behaviour of millions of people all at once, such a concept becomes even more important.
Maybe, maybe not. Such policy statements and industry led campaigns may be designed to make viewers feel secure, while allowing TV providers to continue monitoring. For instance, a promise not to make personal details available to third parties does not stop a company using those details itself on a third party's behalf. Keep in mind that most companies providing interactive TV have been told it is a good investment precisely because of the way viewer data can be used for marketing purposes.
My TV provider says the interactive service could not work without collecting information
Not true. It is perfectly possible to create interactive television that does not collect information about individual households, or collects it in a way that they remain anonymous. And it is certainly possible not to sell the use of that information to third parties.
I don't own a computer, but want to join the 'digital revolution'
There is no one digital revolution, but many on offer. Computers are getting cheaper and easier to use all the time and the internet offers a much wider variety of information and services than interactive TV. If you don't like computers, personal organisers and mobile phones are beginning to offer email. As time goes on, there will be many other ways for you to use digital services. Interactive TV, on the other hand, offers a second rate service with some very dangerous strings attached. Why not give it a miss and find something better?
Aren't you just being old fashioned, or scared of technology?
Most of the people who care about this issue work in computers. It is precisely because we are comfortable with technology, and know what it can do, that we are calling this boycott. The Interactive TV now on offer is not new or revolutionary. It is just television providers hoping to refashion the internet as something they control, and can use to manipulate viewers. What could be more old fashioned than that?