In a technological twist that could be interpreted as either practical or downright Orwellian, a San-Francisco-based startup has collaborated with TV companies to bring you a television that keeps tabs on what you're watching in an unprecedented way. Using the data it collects, your TV reports your viewing to websites and online advertisers in real time so as to personally tailor your web-browsing experience. (Or enslave you to The Man. One of those two things.)
The technology behind this process is called "Sync Apps." Developed by a company called by Flingo, Sync Apps is expected to be featured in televisions by the end of the year; and the company is aiming for some serious market saturation.
The first round of the high-tech sets is already being mass-produced, and will retail for less than $500 — which, compared to a lot of other televisions currently on the market, is likely to sound pretty appealing to a lot of consumers.
Here's a quick rundown on how it all works. A television equipped with Sync Apps keeps tabs on everything you're watching in real time (this could be anything from cable television, to DVDs, to video files shared over your home network). Then Sync Apps sends the information to a server that identifies whatever you're watching. Computers, laptops, tablets, mobile devices — anything sharing the same network connection as your television — can then tap into that information to display relevant web content on the fly. If the channel on your television changes, so does what you see on the web. And here's where the money is: Data collected and analyzed by Sync Apps will also be made available to social networking sites and advertising companies.
David Harrison, cofounder and CTO of Flingo, explains how he envisions consumers might use the technology:
Any mobile app or Web page being used in front of your TV can ask our servers what is on right now...For example, you could go to Google or IMDB and the page would already know what's on the screen. Retailers like Amazon or Walmart might want to show you things to buy related to a show, like DVDs, or what people are wearing in it.
Consumers will have the option of deactivating the "watch-you-watch-me" features provided by Sync Apps, which means that this technology still resides in the land of "service features," as opposed to one of social control. Still, the line distinguishing the the two is becoming a little less distinct, especially when you consider that many users may not figure out how to activate these privacy features.
It's not hard to imagine how technologies like Sync Apps could keep you trapped in online "filter bubbles" — personalized browsing experiences so tailored to our individual tastes that we miss out on content that can challenge and engage us in new ways.