I just spoke with a friend at the CRTC who alerted me to the following ongoing consultation which has an interesting privacy angle. As part of a much broader consultation on broadcasting in Canada, the CRTC is looking for comments and input about the public policy and privacy issues that are related to the use of data gleaned from set top boxes. Those are the smart devices that turn your cable or broadcast signal into something your TV understands, but they are increasingly sophisticated computers that can also provide information back to the cable company about what shows are being watched. While this is obviously useful for a number of purposes, those purposes are not well known. In addition, the extent to which Canadian TV distributors engage in this practice is not well known, either.
Here's the relevant excerpt from the notice:
Broadcasting Notice of Consultation CRTC 2014-190
Enhanced audience measurement using set-top boxes
98. The Commission considers that the Canadian television industry should have access to appropriate tools to effectively respond to changes in the industry and to the needs and interests of viewers. Data from set-top boxes (STBs) could be such a tool as it can be used to measure viewing levels of programs more accurately. This could improve the industry’s ability to provide viewers with the programming they want to watch and the information they need to make informed choices. It could also serve to increase revenues flowing to program creators.
99. Tom Pentefountas, Vice-Chairman, Broadcasting, carried out a fact-finding exercise in early 2014 on the possible use of STBs for audience measurement. A wide range of stakeholders provided information about current approaches to audience measurement and STB technology. A number of stakeholders also raised public policy issues relating to the relationship between audience measurement techniques and privacy, and the availability of STB information in the context of an industry in which some parties are vertically integrated and others are not.
100.STB-based data is currently being collected and used in Australia, UK and the U.S. and, to a more limited extent, in Canada.
101.The collection of STB data is an area in which VI companies may have an advantage to the extent that they share STB data received from their BDUs with the television programming services that they also own. Large broadcasters also have access to a large amount of useful and relevant data from existing audience measurement services such as BBM. In contrast, smaller services and those targeting niche audiences, especially those not operated by VI companies, may not have access to equivalent data either from STBs or from BBM.
102.The privacy of individuals is a paramount consideration and must be maintained. How best to achieve this goal is an important issue and raises additional matters related to viewer consent as well as the gathering and storage of personal information.
103. The Commission invites parties to respond to the following questions, making reference to the English- and French-language markets as appropriate.
Q49. Should an STB-based audience measurement system be implemented in Canada?
Q50. The Commission invites parties to propose a concrete model for the establishment of an STB-based audience measurement system that maintains the privacy of individual Canadians.
Q51. What role, if any, should the Commission play in enabling a STB-based audience measurement system?
Q52. What data points can and should be collected?
Q53. What methodology should be used to collect data?
Q54. If the Commission were to enable the collection and use of such data, what privacy protection methods should be established?
Q55. What technical matters must be resolved to establish an STB-based audience measurement system?
Q56. What governance model should oversee the operation of such a system?
Q57. Does the establishment of an STB-based audience measurement system have implications for resources, funding and cost recovery? If so, what are those implications?
The deadline for comments is June 29, 2014.