GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — Imagine: Two houses are watching the exact same show at the exact same time on the same cable service, but during a commercial, each house sees two totally different ads.
One house sees an ad for a new truck, and the other house sees an ad for a local political candidate.
A spokesperson for Comcast tells KARE 11 the company uses an "advanced advertising service" to create audience segments. Then, personalized ads can be delivered to the audience segments advertisers wish to reach.
If the idea of personalized ads now hitting your cable, satellite or streaming service alarms you, let's ask the next question: How do they know what ads to show you?
“I've certainly heard smart TV executives say we make more profit from the data than we do from selling the screens,” said Justin Brookman, director of tech policy at Consumer Reports.
Brookman says it's not just cable and satellite companies keeping tabs on what you watch, it's your actual TV.
“Most TVs that are manufactured have the ability to watch what you are watching. They are embedded usually with ACR (automated content recognition). So, they take a snapshot of what’s on your screen, they send it back to their lab and figure out what you are watching. ‘Oh it's Succession,’ and they kind of add it to your profile about you,” said Brookman.
Streaming cable services like YouTube TV are a little more transparent about this.
The other day I was watching an NFL game when I got an advertisement with an info prompt. I clicked it and it told me I received that ad because of the program I was watching, my age, gender, location and Google history.
Makes you wonder, what else does my TV know?
According to a 2017 complaint by the Federal Trade Commission, TV manufacturer Vizio was accused of tracking consumers on a "second-by-second" basis.
Streaming, cable, satellite, DVDs — it didn't matter. They captured up to 100 billion data points per day from more than 10 million TVs, the complaint alleged.
The data was collected by default, with no warning or opt-in question, according to the complaint, and while the info did not include consumer's names, it could include "IP addresses, sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education, home ownership and household value."
Vizio maintained its innocence, but ultimately paid millions in a settlement.
“I’ve definitely seen some terrible activity happening,” said Sean O'Brien, founder of Privacy Lab at Yale Law School.
He says the same data brokers that track you on Facebook, Twitter and Google are also working with TV companies in real time.
“If you have … let's say a smartphone, and you are scrolling through it at the same time you are watching television. If a commercial comes on, that commercial can be correlated with a commercial on your phone. And if they are really good at it, they can actually put the exact same commercial on Facebook and so on,” said O’Brien.
Now, you can control a lot of this by finding the app on your TV or streaming device (Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Firestick) and opting out.
But either people don't know about it, or don't care about it.
Samba TV, the company that collects data on your viewing habits on Sony and 23 other brands of smart TVs, is installed in 46 million TVs globally, according to its website.
You know how many people asked Samba TV to delete their data last year? 56.
If you would like to request information on what these companies have on you or opt out of these tracking activities, you can click here for directions on how to opt out.