Is my television spying on me?

I bought a new TV this weekend, and it has this feature called Guide Plus. I enter my Zip code, and it gets the channel lineups over the cable overnight, presumably from some channel they have an agreement with. It also has news articles, like what you’d get on the internet. It’s also assigned me an ID number, and that’s what kind of has me wondering. It seems that accurately knowing what channels I, and thousands of others, were watching would be pretty valuable information. If this is in every model TV, they’d get fairly complete data on cable users, at least. My cable company is Comcast, and they offer broadband cable internet access here, so it’s certainly possible there’s a simple modem in there. I say simple, because the TV was only $199, so there probably isn’t expensive hardware in there. Given the features this has, the processing power and memory seem large enough to allow this, if only a modem is in there.

So far, it hasn’t done anything that necessarily requires it to communicate back. Most of the things it does, like downloading little logos for each channel could just be generic, but broadcasting the channel lineups for everywhere in the country, every night, seems like a lot of redundant bandwidth use. If my TV and others just sent out where they were, only those locations would have to be broadcast.

Am I just being paranoid and/or cynical? Should I buy a one-way filter for my cable line (I’m assuming they sell these at Radio Shack)? Plausible speculation is welcome, but actual knowledge would be even better. My wife has been complaiming that my tinfoil hat crinkles at night, and is keeping her awake, so if I knew I didn’t have to wear it, we’d both be grateful.

In Soviet Russia, TV watches you!

I opened this thread thinking, oh man another tinfoil hat person.

I’ve never heard of that product, but it likely has the capability of spying on you. I’ll go father and say it probably is.

This is what my logic tells me:

  1. It could be designed as a receiver only when hooked to a cable system. The cable provider certainly knows the upcoming schedule on its channels, so there would seem to be no need for you to enter personal data. But it does prompt you for a zip code, so it seems pretty certain it uses it. How? Only two ways I can think of. One is passive. Over the course of a day, EVERY TV schedule in America is sent out through part of the bandwith, each schedule tagged with the zip codes of its potential viewing area. Of course cable stations like, say, TBS, Discovery. etc. would have to be tagged with just about every zipcode (or some “universal” code that would trigger ALL the Guide Plusses).
    The other way is active, it uploads the zipcode and ID data to a server at the cable provider, which sends out the appropriate schedules and tags it for YOUR Guide+. If it can do this, it can also upload how you use the system as well.

  2. The link you provide has NO stated privacy policy.

  3. It has a FAQs page, but NO answers. It merely refers you to the TV maker.

So I’d say it’s a pretty good bet it has the capability to monitor your viewing habits.

There is ONE indicator I saw that argues against it, however. The fact the each TV mfg. implements the technology “differently” argues that it is NOT designed as a Big Brother monitoring device. Then again, a “different implementation” might simply mean labeling the control buttons on the remote differently.

Yeah, I think there’s a good chance it’s TV spyware.

I hope someone shoots me down.


[gets out Nerf gun]


Even if it was gathering data on your viewing habits for eventual transmission to some marketing department somewhere, would it be any worse than the DoubleClick or AdMonitor spyware components that get installed on your computer, or the way the Kroger discount card also sends information about your buying habits to some marketing office somewhere?

But the big question would be, who would be gathering all that marketing information? And, like YJG said, since the GuidePlus FAQ notes that “Each [television] manufacturer chooses to implement the technology in a slightly different manner”, unless you wanna believe in a giant Illuminati-type conspiracy where all the TV manufacturers are in it together, sharing information, well, I wouldn’t worry too much about whether your TV was “watching” you.

Now, your computer, that’s something else… :smiley:

And here I thought this was about Van Eyck (sp?) freaking…

I also thought it was a tinfoil hat thing when I first saw the title. (FWIW, I’ve known two guys who both honestly beleived “the government” had all TVs rigged to spy on [continuously visually monitor] all Africian-Americans in ther homes.)

It appears to me to be an “improved” way to get Nielsen type viewing information. This lets cable providers pitch to potential advertisers better. My reasoning is that the zip code and user ID would be the key. The cable people already know what’s on when because they put it there; but knowing where (generally) you are and being able to pick you as an individual user out from the rest of the people in the greater Ann Arbor area makes it easier to know what and when you watch the boob tube. If they want even more deatiled data on who you are as viewer X-34A, I suppose they can either buy it from a source that already has it or just call you up and ask for it.

You might get better TV programing as a result. You will almost certianly get advertising directed more at your particular buying habits.