Common Sense: Watching You Watch TV

Many of you have wondered why we made such a big deal of the Tivo story.

You know what I'm talking about, the video recording service that's in some hot water now for allegedly spying on its customers. The company says it's just gathering information. Is that what you call monitoring what I peruse on my TV?

Actually, I don't care what you call it. I don't like it not one bit.

Let me cut to the chase. Tivo was chasing its customers without them even knowing it. The company has admitted that it collected information from its 154,000 subscribers for an anonymous database to be sold to advertisers and networks. Tivo's chief privacy officer Matt Zinn was on our air yesterday saying it's no big deal.

Excuse me, Mr. Zinn, I think it is a very big deal. I never said you could do that. I never had any idea you were doing that.

And now we're hearing that all we had to do was call Tivo and they'd deactivate this mechanism that supposedly allows them to track what their subscribers are doing in the first place. If that's so, you certainly hid it in the fine print.

Don't get me wrong: Tivo's not evil and certainly not the first to collect data on its viewers. Banks do it. Retailers do it. Credit card companies do it. But that doesn't make it right.

Sun Microsystems' Scott McNealey once said that privacy is lost when technology is gained. Well, I'm no Wernher von Braun, but I ask "why"? Because someone says it's so? Or because, someone makes it profitable to be so? There's the difference.

What you and I watch and record is our business. It's not some advertiser's business.

Everyone wants to know his or her market and that's fine. But there are surveys for that. Surveys in which participants are asked if they want to participate. Not dragged into some Orwellian high-tech petri dish.

It's offensive, rude and furthermore, it stinks. And if you say it's harmless, then stop monitoring us. I dare you. Because now, we are watching you. And it isn't so fun, is it?

- If you would like to comment on this column send your e-mails to: