As a product, Tivo is easy to love, even root for. As a company, they’re sliding further down that slippery slope of privacy invasion. According to the Wall Street Journal, today Tivo will announce that they’re going to start making detailed demographic customer data available to advertisers. They already sell second-by-second data on viewing patterns, but so far it’s been anonymous; now it will come with information about viewers’ ethnicity, age, income level, etc. As far as we know, they have no corresponding plan to compensate their customers for selling this data. [Update: It turns out Tivo is pulling the demographic data from a group of 20,000 volunteers, and the compensation is the chance to win a free Tivo. (Thanks, Megazone!)]
We know Tivo has always had a problem figuring out how to generate revenue, and we love our Tivo. But if this data is so valuable, why isn’t Tivo paying its customers for it first? They’ve already put out plenty of money on the devices and on subscription fees—offering up free demographic data seems above and beyond a fair agreement.
The next big revolution in marketing needs to come from consumers realizing that demographic data has real value, and that they should be compensated fairly for it. Or actually, since most of us do realize that, what we need is a way to formally announce “ownership” of it so that it can be protected, aggregated, and sold directly.