Verizon filed a patent last week for a set-top box that would watch users in their own living rooms, note their activities, and deliver personalized ads based on what they do.
The patent is titled "Methods and Systems for Presenting an Advertisement Associated with an Ambient Action of a User," which sounds a lot more harmless than it actually is.
Unfortunately, those "methods and systems" include a hypothetical set-top box equipped with a camera that would watch you as you're consuming media on your television.
Article continues below
No, this does not appear to be a bad 1984 joke.
'He sees you when you're sleeping'
Verizon's filing begins by detailing the flaws of "traditional" targeted advertising that pulls information from user profiles and other electronic sources:
"A traditional targeted advertising system fails to account for what the user is doing…while the user is watching the television program," the patent read. "This limits the effectiveness, personalization, and/or adaptability of the targeted advertising."
Verizon's system (which would likely require an opt-in) would bypass those limitations by picking up on users' activities first-hand and in real time.
The patent specifically mentions watching users eating, exercising, laughing, reading, sleeping, talking, singing, humming, cleaning, playing a musical instrument, talking, cuddling, fighting, wrestling, playing a game, interacting with a mobile device, and more.
Then users could be shown ads in direct response to those detected actions - i.e. marriage counseling ads for a couple that's fighting.
What's the difference?
It sounds freaky, but consider that Google already tracks users' search habits and Facebook compiles the personal data that we freely give up.
While this is certainly something else, is it the next step in advertisers gaining access to our activities, both online and in the real world?
Users who get creeped out when Google presents them with an ad for the video game or film they just tweeted about obviously should not opt in to this particular scheme...or anyone who wants to keep their humming to themselves.
Verizon's plans to become the Big Brother of targeted advertising may never become reality - unlike the milder Verizon Selects program announced on Tuesday, this patent merely represents a hypothetical concept.
TechRadar asked Verizon for more about the thought process behind this proposed technology, but a PR representative for the carrier simply referred us to statements made on Tuesday regarding Verizon Selects.
You can read the full patent filing here.