Smart TVs Enable Creepy Ads That Follow You

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Since as early as 2013, the misleadingly-named, San Francisco-based Free Stream Media Corp. has touted smart TV software capable of detecting what you’re watching. Initially marketed as a social tool to drive viewer engagement, the software has morphed into an Orwellian advertising spy machine. Called “Samba TV” since its debut at CES in 2013, the software comes pre-installed on select Smart TV sets from a dozen manufacturers, including Sharp, Toshiba, Sony, and Philips. Claiming to provide consumers who opt in with “recommendations based on the content you love”, the software in fact monitors everything displayed on the TV to identify not only broadcast advertisements but also streaming services and even video games and internet videos.

This data is then distributed to advertisers in real time. The result: creepy targeted ads that know what you’re watching.

Christine DiLandro, a marketing director at Citi, joined Mr. Navin at an industry event at the end of 2015. In a video of the event, Ms. DiLandro described the ability to target people with digital ads after the company’s TV commercials aired as “a little magical.”

This accomplishment is a result of Samba’s “device map”, which appears to utilize a combination of local network exploration and mobile device fingerprinting to identify smartphones, tables, and other computers in the same household as an enabled Smart TV. This allows the company to target ads to other devices based on what’s on TV.

Presumably they’re also building a profile of your viewing habits to sell to advertisers as well. Yikes.