Tivo To Start Sharing Demographic Data

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.

“TiVo to offer advertisers viewer data: report” [Reuters]

“TiVo Serves Up Portrait of the Ad-Zappers” [Wall Street Journal]
(Photo: Tivo and Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. indydrew says:

    What is the big deal? Who cares? It is not like they are giving your name, phone number, SS#. The tin foil hat wearing crowed might have a problem. The normal Tivo custumer is not going to care, like myself. It’s a non story. The first person that says, slippery slop, or whats next, should be hit with a stick and have their Tivo taken away.

  2. darkened says:

    I don’t use a tivo but I sure would be furious about this, I refuse to ever do business with a company that will resell my data.

  3. forever_knight says:

    @indydrew: some people care. the choice should be the consumers, not the company’s. opt-in for a decrease in price, for example, is a good strategy. you would obviously choose to have a lower price for having your data sold. great. but give consumers the option!

    also, well written intro by chris walters!

  4. Crymson_77 says:

    @indydrew: the problem with it is identity. As a Tivo user, I would rather they not sell this information as it WILL eventually lead to more detailed information being provided to the buyers. Also, the data may include an address and from that you can further increase your data store about whoever lives there rather easily. On a more personal note, they don’t own my data so what gives them the right to profit from it?

  5. supra606 says:

    @indydrew: You’re right. Anyone that doesn’t share your opinion should be hit with a stick and have their Tivo taken away. Thanks for enlightening everyone.

  6. indydrew says:

    Here is what gives Tivo the “right” to “your data”, you agreed to it. When you activated your Tivo you agreed to their TOS, and their privacy policy. You do not have to have Tivo, other options are out their. If you dont like what Tivo is doing, dont own a Tivo. Problem solved.

  7. bohemian says:

    Nothing says they are not providing enough information to cross reference this data with other data profiles of a person. A phone number or street address is enough to cross reference with other data gathering programs.

    The bigger issue is ownership of your personal information. A person can control the use of their likeness and demand compensation in trade for permission. A person can control the use of their creative ideas and demand compensation in trade for permission. Your personal habits are private information to a certain point and it has monetary value.

    So you should know if your personal habits are being monitored and given, used or sold. You don’t always get to give permission for this either. You certainly don’t get paid for what really is sort of your intellectual property and you should.

    What needs to happen is for Congress to put the smack down on this kind of thing and define what is appropriate data sharing and what requires your consent. If your bank is selling your shopping data to some mining company they should be required to ask your permission and you should have the right to say no and also to ask for fair compensation if you agree.

    People do not realize exactly how much of your personal behavior is being shared and sold. I would have called it all tin foil hat paranoia had I not worked in an industry that was one of the first that started doing thing and selling the data.

  8. Canadian Impostor says:

    Tivo did drop their rates for new subscribers today. I don’t care if marketers know that I’m a gay christian minority millionaire and that I don’t watch commercials.

    Hint: fill in fake information about yourself whenever possible.

  9. howie_in_az says:

    Doesn’t this violate their privacy agreement (note: I haven’t had a TiVo in 3 years)? Wouldn’t they have to send out a notice to users saying that the privacy agreement has changed, and let users opt-out of data sharing?

  10. Nytmare says:

    @indydrew: Your method of solving problems leaves a lot to be desired. Literally.

  11. Faerie says:

    Not such a big deal to me if they give an “opt out” option. Which I hope they will implement.

  12. MegaZone says:

    Everyone, calm down and take a deep breath. Chris, this misrepresents what TiVo is doing, they are *NOT* selling random customer demographic data. The WSJ article makes hat clear, and TiVo also issued a press release announcing this Power||Watch offering.

    The demographic data comes from a pool of 20,000 *volunteer* households. And the compensation is that the volunteers are entered into a raffle for a free TiVo – you may or may not think that’s enough, but apparently 20,000 households did.

    There is no slippery slope here. There is no privacy invasion. And there is nothing to worry about for users. TiVo has always protected customer data and unless you explicitly volunteer for this survey group (or any of the others they do) you’re data is not used. There is informed consent.

    (I run TiVoLovers.com)

  13. adamondi says:

    TiVo is using this as a way to become profitable without raising its subscription prices even more. Unlike Cable providers that just jack up their monthly fees whenever they want to improve their bottom line, TiVo is seeking out alternative revenue streams that would not require their customers to bear the price burden. To me, that is a form of compensation. I have no problem with TiVo selling aggregated viewing stats that do not reveal anything about me personally. If all they do is sell the data by demographic range, then fine.

  14. Pylon83 says:

    Way to go actually pointing out what the article really says, rather than making brash assumptions about how TiVo is screwing their customers. Now how are the commenters supposed to have any fun complaining about how their rights are being infringed upon and how they should be compensated for their “demographic” data. I mean, who cares if they agreed to the collection and sharing of said data in TiVo’s TOS? That shouldn’t matter. This is clearly some sort of eggregious constitutional violation. Anyone who owns a TiVo should get on the phone with a lawyer now, as I’m certain this has class-action potential. Clearly everyone has an implied patent/copyright on their demographic data. And here you are, spoiling everyones fun with “real” and “logical” interpretaions of the article. No sir, here we perfer one-sided readings that show how the big bad company is screwing over its customers. In fact, given this latest violation by TiVo, they should provide free boxes to everyone, and pay each “subscriber” every month for the collection of their data. I think $500/month seems fair. How about everyone else?

  15. lincolnparadox says:

    This may seem invasive at first, but essentially it might give the networks something else to turn to for ratings data. ACN Neilsen viewers pretty much decides what shows stay on TV. Maybe TiVo data sharing will allow you to keep shows you watch on the air?

  16. dantsea says:

    Oh noes! Advertisers might now how many 18-24 year olds in zipcode 94110 have a Tivo! They won’t know their names, addresses or any other personal information but WAAAAH MAY PRYVACEE IS ROONT! WAAAH!

    Or, what MegaZone said.

  17. @MegaZone: I’ve updated the article to reflect the 20,000 volunteers/free Tivo raffle information. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

    As you can guess, I disagree wholeheartedly with consumers giving up this information for free (or quite nearly free, in this case). The data is more valuable than a 1:20,000 chance to win a device worth <$600, assuming the raffle is for the HD model. One’s love for Tivo should have no impact on determining the value of one’s demographic data.

  18. erratapage says:

    I don’t think I own my demographic data. My concern is that the sale of my demographic data may make my life more annoying. And, while I admit I agreed to the TOS when I signed up for TIVO, it was a contract of adhesion… a unilateral contract that I had no right to negotiate or change.

    I don’t know what this demographic data consists of, but I don’t mind if it doesn’t result in me getting more telemarketing calls, spam, junk mail, or other financial loss. If it results in market research that leads to better products, great.

  19. Antediluvian says:

    Frankly, I’d do something like this in a heartbeat if it meant that show-makers and network execs would start programming more decent Sci-Fi, FUNNY sitcoms, and gay-friendly programs, and lose the reality shows, primetime game shows, and wrestling.

    Now, a gay-friendly sci-fi sitcom? Red Dwarf! While not OVERLY gay-friendly, it wasn’t bad and I think if it were made again today, it would be even better on the topic. But it was also one of the few Sci-Fi sitcoms that were FUNNY.

    And I still love the scene where The Cat is going down the hallway spritzing everything in sight with an atomizer while saying, “And this is mine, and this is mine. Mine, mine, mine.”

    Also Futurama.

  20. Framling says:

    @indydrew: Uh, isn’t that kind of the point of the post? “Hey, Tivo’s doing something you might not like, you might want to not use Tivo.”

    Actually, isn’t that pretty much the point of the site?

  21. “Privacy” is a red herring in this argument. This is about buying and selling data that you create, data that wouldn’t exist without you. And this isn’t data that’s used to improve society in some general way (which, in my mind, is the only good argument for making it “free”)—it’s used by private companies to generate profit. We’ve been trained to think of such data as a value-less byproduct of modern life, and to be grateful to companies that miraculously find a use for it.

    The way we approach this issue today is about on the level of how the Dozers approached their work on Fraggle Rock—just happy to putter along mindlessly generating food for the Fraggles.

    I never thought I’d write a “serious” sentence about Fraggle Rock.

  22. Murph1908 says:

    I didn’t KNOW there was a TiVolovers.com

    See you soon!

  23. realjen01 says:

    i have an older tivo….so i have the lifetime subscription that was long ago paid off. they’re more than welcome to sell my data. just please don’t take my tivo away! i need it!

  24. TPIRman says:

    Re: Chris Walters:

    As you can guess, I disagree wholeheartedly with consumers giving up this information for free (or quite nearly free, in this case). The data is more valuable than a 1:20,000 chance to win a device worth < $600, assuming the raffle is for the HD model.

    What basis are you using to make this determination of value? I’m not trying to troll; I’m really asking.

    Clearly, to the volunteers involved in the pilot program, their age, marital status, income, and ethnicity data—somewhat anonymized through aggregation—are not worth more than the expected return of $0.03. Otherwise, they would not have agreed to the program. “Value” is determined by the amount someone will accept to part with a given good. TiVo appears to be paying the going rate.

    Of course, TiVo turns around and sells the data at a tidy profit, but it is adding value to the demographic info by aggregating it, distributing it and, most importantly, tying it to TiVo’s exclusive viewership data.

    That last one is particularly huge. Demographic information by itself is not worth much, and it is freely available (e.g., via the census). The data acquires the bulk of its value when consumption patterns are mapped to it. TiVo is able to map viewing data onto its demographic culls; your supermarket can map grocery-spending data onto the demographics of its loyalty-card holders; etc.

    The market has shown that people view discounts and raffle entries as fair compensation—i.e., value—for their part in this process. One big reason is likely because there is no scarcity of supply on their end. They can sell their info again and again to different buyers. (This also makes it problematic to talk about “ownership.”)

    Don’t get me wrong; I agree with your sentiment that demographic data needs to be better protected, and I admire your notion of a more formalized clearinghouse for personal information. I believe the cavalier treatment of privacy by corporations is a serious problem.

    But you are trying to make the argument about value, an economic concept with tangible measures, and I just don’t see it. That said, it appears you’ve given a lot of good thought to the topic, so I’m interested to hear you elaborate on your vision.

  25. BStu says:

    @Chris Walters: I’m sorry, but I really don’t see the problem here. Yes, Demographic data has a value, but its not really a marketable commodity for a consumer. What’s more, the system is voluntary. Even if the compensation is minimal, these volunteers know what they are getting which is a lot more than if they tried to sell their demographics as an individual. Its valuable when Tivo collects it and puts a context to it. My income level, gender, and educational background isn’t something I can sell on my own.

  26. Bodgy says:

    I still love tivo.

  27. erratapage says:

    Wouldn’t demographic data be the property of the aggregator of the data?

  28. airborneaccess says:

    I have been a TiVo subscriber for quite a while now. Ever since I found out that they collect data about what you watch, which was a few months after I got the TiVo, I wanted to opt-out but never got around to it because they make it very difficult, which upset me even more. It’s not as easy as opting out on your TiVo box, the website, or by email. You must call in. When I saw this post ([consumerist.com]) I immediately called and to my shock I was told that TiVo doesn’t collect any information at all and that the only thing TiVo records was calls to customer service. She said I must be getting this information from a chat room or a forum even after telling her that I was getting it directly from the Tivo.com website. I had to ask her who she worked for because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and she informed me that she worked for TiVo. She then told me that I opted in on the privacy in February is asked her what she was talking about because the privacy status relates to exactly what I was talking about, TiVo collecting data about what I watch, and she told me she was talking about email and that I opted out for email communication. I never communicated with TiVo in February and I am subscribed and receive their email newsletter’s so either it was a computer error or she was making things up. I was getting no where. She denied the fact that they record anything multiple times. I got her name, a case number and her call center location. She told me they didn’t have an ID#. I called back after that only to be put on hold for 13 minutes only to be hung up on. I will call back when my cell phone minutes are free. 9PM EST. Please spread the word.

  29. Atomike says:

    Tivo is easily the most mis-managed company on the planet right now. The current CEO clearly understands nothing about business, people, or technology. How many people do you know who like paying monthly fees? People want a box they can buy and own – without monthly fees. Tivo is the poster child of how NOT to run a company.

  30. Jamie Beckland says:

    Let’s get one thing straight: it’s TiVo. Not tivo. Not TIVO. Not Tivo. I love my TiVo(s). They can use my demographic information if it means that I will actually get relevant commercials instead of ads for Levitra and The Biggest Loser. Seriously, I think that this info is exactly what will SAVE television – A.C. Nielsen is moving in this direction too with second-by-second set top boxes and less reliance on paper logs (which create sweeps – in which people just ‘vote’ for the shows they wish they watched instead of admitting they are watching RonCo informercials at 3:30 AM).

    Yes, people should have the ability to opt in (NOT opt out!), but in my mind, this is the way to save television.

  31. Jamie Beckland says:

    Oh, and competition for A.C. Nielsen isn’t a bad thing either…

  32. Anonymous statistics don’t bother me. What I want to know is how they know personal info about me. I never told them my race, gender, income level. Like the article says (not this post) they are only doing this for the couple thousand volunteers right now. I assume that these people filled out the appropriate questionnaire…

  33. kubus_gt says:

    Thank you WillScarlett, about time this thread gets some solid info.
    Tivo was already supplying viewing habits data to whomever paid for it. It was household and little less informative but it is sec by sec, something Nielsen can’t do yet. DirecTV, Comcast, TW and the rest, all store, mine and sell your viewing habits. The data is going to be even better, with bigger sample and with more info. Given that the 20K subs will not ever represent the total US, but they represent something better. The early adopters, the young, the high income with a lot of expensive gadgets that starve for more toys. This is the cream of the crop audience. Starcom is already on board with Tivo and Starcom is the early adopter among the agencies.
    And yes, this might save the TV as you know it. There is nothing stopping the striking writers from putting their creative up on the internet and starving the networks until they die from reality… tv shows.

  34. yetiwisdom says:

    I also <3 my Tivo. Your comments here:

    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.

    Remind me of this blog post that calls for similar:

    I imagine a world where I have complete control of how my identity is used, and I am appropriately compensated for its use. I am fine with letting marketers track my behavior, tastes and preferences, but I want to be compensated for it. I would happily be the “boy in the bubble” and have every purchase, TV show, radio program, mp3, shopping trip, restaurant selection, web site visit, download, whatever, tracked. But, I know there’s value to this and I want control. Crazy or forward-thinking?

    Since when did people that we partner with automatically get ownership of our demographic data and the right to track us any way they can? Oh wait – it’s when User Agreements and TOC’s went down to a 2-point font and encompassed 10+ pages.

  35. MegaZone says:

    @Chris Walters: Personally I participate in a number of consumer panels – Synovate, IPSOS, etc. Most of those have effective no reward – usually some kind of drawing to win something, but the odds aren’t great.

    But I’m happy to answer questions because I’m not opposed to ads – but I want to see ads and products that *I* want. I’m a 36 year old single male geek who owns a home and lives alone – I don’t need to see crap for kids or women, or the elderly. But I am interested in gadgets and tech. I’m interested in media. So pitch the right products to me and I might bite.

    I’ve been online since 1989 and it isn’t hard to find out a lot of information on me with Google and five minutes, so I don’t feel like I need to hide my info. I do some things, like not accepting 3rd party cookies, and purging tracking cookies from time to time.