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Survey highlights STB privacy fears

The proposal by the Federal Communications Commission to open up the set-top box market to tech giants such as Google has Americans concerned about the potential intrusion on their privacy and whether companies will start collecting information on their children, according to a survey commissioned by the Digital Citizens Alliance – a consumer-oriented coalition focused on educating the public and policy makers on the threats that consumers face on the Internet and the importance for Internet stakeholders – individuals, government and industry – to make the Web a safer place.

After the FCC proposed opening up the set-top box market to third-party device makers, technology and security experts – including at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) – have raised concerns about how consumer viewing habits could be collected and potentially sold.

A key issue for Americans is how they view the private browsing they do on a smartphone or computer as opposed to the communal experience of watching a movie or TV programmes in the living room with their family.

According to the Vrge Analytics survey, two-thirds of Americans (66 per cent) said they make a distinction between the personal experience of a laptop or mobile device and the communal experience of watching TV in their living room.

And Americans are concerned that tech companies will serve up ads from their private browsing onto their living room TV that they are watching with their family. According to the survey, 73 per cent said it would bother them if ads related to their private activities on their phone and laptop showed up on their living room television.

“The FCC needs to do more research to ensure that this proposal doesn’t have serious unintended effects. Imagine that when you are watching your television with your family, you get ads about a sensitive topic you were researching online, such as a serious health issue,” said Tom Galvin, Executive Director of Digital Citizens. “The FCC has a lot of work to do to convince Americans that the benefits of changing our living room set-top box are worth the risks to our privacy and security.”

The FCC is completing its public comment period regarding the set-top box proposal this week. One of the key issues that has been raised is whether the FCC has the authority to enforce privacy protections that would protect Americans.

The Vrge Analytics poll of 685 Americans was conducted on April 13-14, 2016 and has a margin of error of 2.8 per cent.

Key Questions and Answers:

Q1. Our phones and laptops are very personal devices in which we browse and explore for things in our life, including entertainment, medical issues or relationships. We also know that increasingly the ads we receive are tied to what we search and do online. Given that, would you be comfortable if the ads that appeared on your living room TV while watching a programme with your friends or family were related to a medical condition that you researched on your computer?

·         It wouldn’t bother me. I am an open book and if ads related to my online browsing activity showed up on my living room TV while I was watching a programme with my family and friends that would be fine: 14 per cent

·         It would bother me. What I do online is my own business and I would be uncomfortable if ads related to my online browsing activity showed up while I was watching a programme with my family and friends on my living room TV: 73 per cent

·         Not sure: 14 per cent

Q2. Generally speaking, the set-top boxes in our living room are provided by the provider of the service. For example, Comcast may provide the box if you have cable TV. Apple may provide the box if you have Apple TV. There is a new proposal to give companies such as Google the ability to offer a box that replaces a cable set-top box. That would add to the amount of information that Google may already know about you through your search and browsing online on your computer and mobile device. Does Google potentially gaining more information about you concern you?

·         Yes, between what I may do online and on my mobile device, and in the future Google’s efforts to know what I do with my home activities and in my car it is unsettling that one company has that much information on me: 63 per cent

·         No, I am not worried about Google gaining more information on me, even if its information about what I do in my home, in my living room or in my car: 22 per cent

·         Not sure: 14 per cent

Q3. For some, what they do on their laptop or mobile device is a personal experience while watching TV in their living room is a communal experience. In your opinion, do you see a difference between the two?

·         Yes, I make a distinction between those two experiences: 66 per cent

·         No, I don’t make a distinction between those two experiences: 24 per cent

·         Not sure: 10 per cent

Q4. If Google enters into the set-top box business, it will be able to not only collect information about what you watch but also what your children are interested in. That would be somewhat new for Google. Overall, are you comfortable that Google would be collecting information about your children’s viewing habits and interests?

·         I am comfortable with Google collecting information about my children’s viewing habits and interests: 20 per cent

·         I am not comfortable with Google collecting information about my children’s viewing habits and interests: 62 per cent

·         Not sure: 18 per cent

Q5. The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a new plan to enable Google and others to replace a cable set-top box in your living room with one of their own. Some say that is a good idea because it would create an ‘all-in-one’ device to control your content. Others are concerned that it gives Google too much power and creates privacy concerns. What is your opinion?

·         I think the FCC plan is a good idea to enable Google and others to replace a cable set-top box. Creating an all-in-one device outweighs concerns about privacy or Google gaining too much power: 24 per cent

·         I think the FCC plan is a bad idea to enable Google and others to replace a cable set-top box. Concerns about privacy or Google gaining too much power outweigh the benefit of creating an all-in-one device: 51 per cent

·         Not sure: 25 per cent

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