Verizon patent application for TV snooping tech rejected

It would serve ads based on viewer actions in front of their sets

The U.S. Patent Office has delivered a "non-final" rejection of a Verizon patent application for a controversial technology that would have served targeted ads to TV viewers based on what they might be doing or saying in front of their sets.

In what is known formally as an Office action, the Patent Office sent the application back to Verizon, which must now decide whether it wants to pursue the application further or abandon the patent claims.

The patent in question has been the subject of intense media scrutiny since FierceCable uncovered it last week. Verizon's somewhat laboriously titled the patent application "Methods and Systems for Presenting an Advertisement Associated with an Ambient Action of a Use."

The application says the technology would be capable of triggering different advertisements depending on whether a viewer or viewers might be eating, playing, cuddling, laughing, singing, fighting or gesturing in front of their sets. Specifically, the patent covers technology that can serve ads "...targeted to the user based on what the user is doing, who the user is, the user's surroundings, and/or any other suitable information associated with the user."

The goal is to provide "the user with advertising content that is relevant to the user's current situation and/or likely to be of interest to the user."

So a couple cuddling in front of the TV could get a commercial associated with cuddling, like a romantic getaway vacation, a commercial for a contraceptive, a commercial for flowers, or a trailer for an upcoming romantic comedy movie, the application notes.

Similarly, a user singing or humming a generally "happy" song, or laughing in front of the TV, playing a musical instrument or exhibiting some other indication of their mood would see an advertisement appropriate to that mood.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed. His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

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