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TiVo Knows What You're Watching

If Magazine | May 28 2005

Like the VCR, the DVD player and the television itself, we have to wonder what did we ever do without Digital Video Recorders (DVRs). It is such a simple idea: put a hard drive in a metal box so that people can not only record their favorite television shows, but also pause and rewind live television broadcasts. Genius!

However with every new technological advance comes a little loss of privacy. Look at the Internet. You could order things on line with your credit card 24/7 but you have to put some private information out into the matrix. This convenience gave birth to a little something called identity theft.

Not so dramatic, but just as disturbing, is the fact that several DVR companies, including the largest, TiVo, are providing companies with what you are watching, right on their websites.

Worries of a TiVo big brother scenario began to creep into the public consciousness when the DVR company told media sources exactly how many people used their rewind and pause options during Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction during the 2003 Super Bowl half-time show.

Now at the TiVo website, users and non-users alike can check into see what shows people are recording and what stars and directors are on their "wish list." The TiVo website ( is very clear that this data "is aggregated from 20,000 randomly selected anonymous TiVo households." The DVR company even goes as far as to tell subscribers "TiVo Inc. takes your privacy very seriously. These analyses are based on completely anonymized data, and there is no association whatsoever with personally identifiable information about our subscribers. TiVo does not collect and cannot analyze personally identifiable viewing habits of our subscribers without their prior affirmative consent. Absent such affirmative consent, only anonymous data is collected." Did they just make up a new word? Anonymized?

Granted, this data collection seems harmless now. But who will the TiVo people give your information to if you should happen to record a week’s worth of documentaries on Iraq or Neo-Nazism. In this era of fear and Christian fanaticism, you have to wonder who’s watching what your watching.

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