Pushing the envelope on privacy, Verizon is trying to patent a new method of delivering interactive ads.
In its application for patent, titled "Methods and Systems for Presenting an Advertisement Associated with an Ambient Action of a User," Verizon outlines a plan to tailor ads to people based on what they're doing while watching TV.
To accomplish this, the company will put sensors -- like infrared cameras and microphones -- onto set-top boxes. Those devices will let Verizon know what people are doing while watching TV. For instance, Verizon says in its patent application, if two people are present in the room, the sensor will determine whether one user is "talking to, cuddling with, fighting with, wrestling with, playing a game with, competing with, and/or otherwise interacting with" the other.
Next, Verizon would arrange to send ads to people -- via television, smartphones and tablets -- based on their activity, including their conversations with each other.
What type of ads? Here are some examples from the application: If a sensor determines that someone is running on a treadmill while watching tv, Verizon could send them ads for health food. If the sensor "detects that a couple is arguing/fighting with each other," the company "may select an advertisement associated marriage/relationship counseling." If the sensor detects "that the user is stressed," Verizon may send that person an ad for a "stress-relief product such as aromatherapy candles [or] a vacation resort."
News of the patent application was reported this week by Fierce Cable.
Verizon apparently thinks this system will overcome deficiencies of older forms of targeted advertising. Here's how the company explains its reasoning: "If a user is watching a television program, a traditional targeted advertising system fails to account for what the user is doing (e.g., eating, interacting with another user, sleeping, etc.) while the user is watching the television program. This limits the effectiveness, personalization, and/or adaptability of the targeted advertising."
Whether Verizon is right about that remains to be seen. But it doesn't seem likely that consumers will welcome the prospect of being watched by Verizon while they're trying to watch tv.