David mentioned seeing this on slashdot a while back, but I just got around to tracking it down– and I’m ever so glad I did. We’ve all had the experience, I’d imagine, of being frustrated by the weird recommendations Amazon or Netflix sometimes turns up– but TiVo kind of takes it to a new level by randomly displaying its perceptions of you to whomever happens to flip channels.
Suggesting programs is just the first step for this technology. The advertising industry is beginning to understand that such profiling will allow them to segment the market far more effectively than ever, allowing them to promise clients that their ads will be seen only by certain narrowly defined demographic/psycholgraphic groups. What’s more, TiVo data may reveal the existence of obscure segments that nobody would have though to target before– for instance, high-income lesbian republicans who enjoy watching westerns.
The best part of the WSJ article is at the end, when a hairdresser tells how quickly TiVo figured out that he and his partner ARE in fact gay, despite their attempts to trick it. “Mr. Leon believes the box was giving them a message: ‘You’re definitely gay. And you’re watching too much TV.'”
I have spent a fair amount of time cleaning up my Amazon recommendations– for instance, removing from my list things I bought as gifts, and rating the things it recommends that I bought elsewhere. Having done that, the “Just Like You” feature has gotten both interesting and creepy. Based on my suggestions, it finds another customer with similar ratings and then tells me what that person likes that I haven’t rated yet. The really creepy part is that I DO own about half of the stuff listed. So it turns out my supposedly eclectic tastes are a little less unique than I had hoped. If it ever shows me another person whose list includes Pedro the Lion, rugby books, Joan Didion, and the KitchenAid KT2651X Epicurean 475 Watt 6-Quart Stand Mixer in Cobalt Blue, the very foundation of my identity as a complicated consumer will be shaken.