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Cable TV companies are prohibited by law, from selling information about the viewing habits of their customers. The makers of Vizio televisions took the risk to surreptitiously collect details on viewers’ watching habits and was subsequently fined $2.2 million by the Federal Trade Commission. Vizio Smart TVs have the ability to gather information about our preferences, in a similar way to internet cookies. Cookies were designed to be a reliable way for websites to remember useful information or to record a user’s browsing activity. Some people believe that this can be exploited, whilst others enjoy seeing relevant adverts based on their browser history.

Smart Machines Exploit our Desire to be Happy

When watching TV, depending on the time of day or your mood, you will probably select different programs at different times. These choices are mostly a result of choosing to watch something that will make you feel happy at that particular point in time. Some hours you want to relax with a good film, other times you want to laugh at a comedy, or watch a sports game with your best friend. Smart TVs, such those made by Vizio, but also by Samsung and LG Electronics employ data analysts to collect this information and exploit it for their financial benefits. The difference is that unlike Vizio, Samsung and LG Electronics only track your viewing habits when you choose to turn the feature on.



If you choose to activate this feature on your smart TV, what do the companies do with the collected data? They create a data structure, a virtual profile for you, by identifying things that you love, in the desired order. Once this is complete, they come back to you with tailored adverts of things you might want, by selling your consumer profile to other companies. Not forgetting that such information extracted from your day-to-day habits could also potentially be exploited for political and military purposes.

The Machine Will Have the Power to Predict

These virtual consumer profiles will be created automatically, by using more and more powerful automated machine learning approaches and algorithms. The algorithms take into account past performance on similar datasets in order to optimize the results. With this, it will start to make predictions on what TV channels you might choose to watch at given times of day, or even give you suggestions for future viewing. By combining this with additional data, such as family members, career perspectives, age and health, the accuracy of future selections can be improved with respect to the decisions the TV will make regarding the content, programs and advertising that it provides you with.

How Far it Can Go?

If we assume that for 24 hours, someone is monitored through various means (TV, internet, mobile devices), various results about a person’s health status, psychological or psychiatric problems, their weaknesses, and even predictions about the next day could be made. And that next day, the smart TV proactively suggests the right programs, to solve the problem of choosing what to watch before it actually occurs. Would that be a better world?

Top image: Man watching television using remote control: Source Stock Image

Nikos Dimitris Fakotakis's picture

Nikos Dimitris Fakotakis

Fakotakis Nikos Dimitris received his BSc-MEng in Computer and Information Engineering from the Polytechnic School of Patras, Greece, in 2015. He is currently a PhD student in the Wireless Communication Laboratory of the same department. His research interests are in the field of Artificial Intelligence and Human Computer Interaction. In parallel with his studies he has been working as computer and network engineer, database administrator, and software developer (Java, python, etc.).Read More

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