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Google Researching ‘Eavesdropping’ of TV to Push Personalized Content

The internet world is buzzing with discussion regarding a paper presented by Google research scientists

The basic idea is that a user may be surfing the net on a laptop while watching TV (or perhaps have the TV on in the background). The microphone would pick up the audio signal and push relevant content to the user’s computer. As a concept, it is an extension of Google’s online advertising system, which reads the content of a participating web page and presents relevant advertisements to readers of that page.
On the Google research blog, the researchers say that:

“We showed how to sample the ambient sound emitted from a TV and automatically determine what is being watched from a small signature of the sound — all with complete privacy and minuscule effort. The system could keep up with users while they channel surf, presenting them with a real-time forum about a live political debate one minute and an ad-hoc chat room for a sporting event in the next.”

The research has received a mixed reaction; for example, see Thomas Clayburn’s article in Information Week .

The general view of many commentators is that to use such technology would be a further invasion of user privacy, regardless of Google’s assurances. Also, given the massive profits that Google makes from online advertising, it is thought likely that such a system would first and foremost be used to push advertising, rather than actual content.

Edit – 18/6/2006:  Gary Hayes has posted a good analysis of the Google paper.  He refers to the idea as ‘Social Synch TV‘.

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