Verizon technology to detect what’s happening in your living room

A cable provider has lodged a patent for set-top technology that can detect what’s happening in your living room – and show you adverts based on what it sees.

The patent has been applied for by US company Verizon which says a new device using the innovation could potentially detect when a couple is cuddling, then show a commercial for a romantic weekend away, for flowers or for a contraceptive.

It means the set-top could decide to show you adverts for condoms if it detects you and your other half are getting a bit amorous.

The technology could determine whether you have any pets or children – broadcasting adverts for cat food or nappies or even what sort of physical characteristics viewers have, even skin colour, meaning you could get commercials for make-up for black skin, for example.

It would work through using a range of sensors including microphones, motion sensors and thermal imaging cameras.

The application says sensors would be able to detect what viewers were doing, whether they were “eating, exercising, laughing, reading, sleeping, talking, singing, humming, cleaning, playing a musical instrument, performing any other suitable action, and/or engaging in any other physical activity.”

Other media companies have introduced technology which reacts depending on how many people are in the room. Microsoft has registered a patent of its own which will allow the Kinect motion sensor on its Xbox to work out how many people are in front of it, to stop play if there are more people there than allowed under copyright terms.

And, in 2008, cable operator Comcast patented an innovation which recommends content to viewers based on people it ‘sees’ in the room.

But this Verizon patent goes further as the only one to allow a broadcaster to tailor adverts depending on what viewers are doing.

It was first filed back in May 2011 but news of the patent has only just been revealed because of the US law which demands all applications are published after 18 months.

But the move has already been slammed as being akin to the George Orwell dystophia 1984.

Nick Pickles, who is director of the campaign group Big Brother Watch, described Smart TVs with built-in cameras and microphones as a “privacy nightmare waiting around the corner”.

He added: “It is only a matter of time before technology using facial recognition, audio analysis and monitoring what you watch is common place.”

Saying it was essential consumers were fully aware of what they were buying and what any collected data was used for, Pickles added: “The tables could turn and now it’s Google searching your living room for data about you.

“In reality, this might be some rather far-fetched marketing gimmick but the current consumer protections are badly lacking and some companies are happy to do whatever it takes to get as much information as possible and keep ahead of their competitors. This needs to be reined in before consumers lose control for good.”