People See Privacy Threat From 'Unlocked' Cable Boxes, Critics Claim

Opponents of the Federal Communications Commission's plan to unlock set-top boxes have argued for weeks that the agency's proposal will pose a risk to consumers' privacy.

Critics of the FCC's proposal -- including cable providers and content owners, like the Motion Picture Association of America -- argue that it will allow Google (and other companies) to build set-top boxes and then combine Web-surfing data with TV-viewing habits for ad purposes. Cable companies have reason to oppose the proposal, given that they currently glean $20 billion a year from set-top box rental fees; the MPAA also is concerned that the proposal will make it harder to control piracy.

The FCC has consistently downplayed the privacy concerns. The agency has said it will require Google or other device and app developers to certify that they comply with similar privacy rules as cable and satellite providers.

But opponents aren't convinced. Today, the Digital Citizens Alliance -- a nonprofit funded by the movie industry -- said a new survey of 685 Americans shows that consumers don't want Web data used to serve ads to TV sets, and also don't want Google to learn about their TV viewing histories.

Two-thirds of survey respondents said they see a distinction between the private experience of using a smartphone or laptop and group experience of watching TV.

A higher proportion -- 73% -- said they didn't want to receive ads on TV based on sites they had visited -- at least when those sites were related to health conditions, and when they were watching TV with other people.

The exact wording of that question, however, appears to stack the deck. The question included the following passage: "We also know that increasingly the ads we receive are tied to what we search and do online. Given that, would you be comfortable if the ads that appeared on your living room TV while watching a program with your friends or family were related to a medical condition that you researched on your computer?"

The survey also directly questioned consumers about Google, which is often at odds with the MPAA over links in the search results to copyrighted material. Respondents' answers suggest that they don't want Google to have more data about them -- though, again, the methodology is questionable.

Pollsters first told respondents the survey would enable companies like Google to offer cable boxes. The question continued as follows: "That would add to the amount of information that Google may already know about you through your search and browsing online on your computer and mobile device. Does Google potentially gaining more information about you concern you?"

Sixty-three percent of respondents then said they agreed with the following answer: "Yes, between what I may do online and on my mobile device, and in the future Google's efforts to know what I do with my home activities and in my car it is unsettling that one company has that much information on me."

2 comments about "People See Privacy Threat From 'Unlocked' Cable Boxes, Critics Claim".
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  1. Robert LaJeunesse from Luman Concepts, April 21, 2016 at 12:50 p.m.

    Good example of how to fabricate a survey to support your goals. Fair? I doubt it. Balanced? No way. But will the "Alliance" tout the results? Most certainly. 

  2. Barbara Ricci from The Westchester News, April 21, 2016 at 8:05 p.m.

    The truth is Google is the most trusted search engine on the internet! Yes they do follow all of us, all the search engines follow us, it's called marketing.  If you like searching for cars, you are going to see a lot of ads for cars while your surfing the net, but, that's how the cookie crumbles.  Welcome to the world wide web, it knows you and me, and everyone else on the internet very well.  Google is  good, and absolutely not evil.  I think the hackers that work for cable companies and places like Facebook and hackers like Mark Zuckerberg, these are the people you need to be concerned about, not Google.  Google is a Robot - Google is not evil. 

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