Verizon Wants In Your Living Room
December 6, 2012

Verizon Files Patent For Set-top Box That Monitors People In Their Living Rooms

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Verizon has filed a patent application for a set-top box technology that would detect “ambient action” such as “cuddling, fighting and talking" in customers´ living rooms to help marketers push targeted advertisements.

In its patent application, Verizon said the device would help address some major drawbacks of traditional advertising,

“For example, 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,” read the patent application, which was filed in May 2011 but published last week.

By law, all patent applications must be published after 18 months.

The patent, first reported by FierceCable, gives examples of the system´s acute sensitivity, and how it can be used to help marketers. For instance, sounds of people arguing would prompt ads for marriage counseling, while sounds of “cuddling” could trigger ads for contraceptives.

“If detection facility detects one or more words spoken by a user (e.g., while talking to another user within the same room or on the telephone), advertising facility may utilize the one or more words spoken by the user to search for and/or select an advertisement associated with the one or more words,” Verizon said in its application.

The telecom giant said its system would utilize "a depth sensor, an image sensor, an audio sensor, and a thermal sensor" to detect whether viewers were engaging in activities such as “eating, exercising, laughing, reading, sleeping, talking, singing, humming, cleaning, and playing a musical instrument.”

Users would also be given the option to link their smartphones and tablet devices to the system to directly increase its sensitivity.

“If detection facility detects that the user is holding a mobile device, advertising facility may be configured to communicate with the mobile device to direct the mobile device to present the selected advertisement. Accordingly, not only may the selected advertisement be specifically targeted to the user, but it may also be delivered right to the user´s hands,” the patent application read.

The system would also be able to determine what types of pets or objects are in the room, as well as “dynamically adjust parental control features” if it detects that young children are present.

Although Verizon´s system would hopefully allow subscribers the ability to opt out, public reaction to the technology has, not surprisingly, been mainly negative, with many objecting to the idea of third-party marketers invading the privacy of their homes in such an intrusive way.

But Verizon is only the latest company to pursue detection technology for targeted advertisements. Comcast patented a similar system in 2008 for recommending content based on the people present in the room. Microsoft filed a patent application last month to use Kinect for similar purposes, and Google has proposed a patent for Google TV that would use audio and video recorders to determine the number of people in a room that are viewing the current broadcast.

Verizon declined to comment on the patent, but released the following statement to CBS Radio about its position on consumer privacy.

“Verizon has a well-established track record of respecting its customers´ privacy and protecting their personal information. As a company that prizes innovation, Verizon takes pride in its innovators whose work is represented in our patents and patent applications. While we do not comment on pending patent applications, such futuristic patent filings by innovators are routine, and whatever we might do in the future would be in line with our well-established track record of respecting our customers´ privacy and protecting their personal information.”