What is TV ACR and why is privacy an issue?
Until recently, TV wasn’t as measurable a medium as advertisers and broadcasters would like. Quantifying the effect of TV campaigns on subsequent viewer behaviour was never easy, and extremely reliant on limited panels for feedback. Now, however, things have changed. With automated content-recognition (ACR) technology being built into more and more Smart TVs, said TVs recognizing what they are showing and an ever-expanding amount of viewing data being produced, it’s easier than ever before to understand viewership and quantify the effects that brands’ advertising has on their customers. But as is always the case where new avenues of data collection begin to open, making sure viewers’ privacy and rights are fully respected remains absolutely paramount.
The Federal Trade Commission hasn’t been resting on its laurels either, and has taken the initiative on protecting users’ data and their right to opt in or out of its use. In February 2017, the FTC issued a new set of compliance standards that collectors of TV ACR data must adhere to. In essence, the new criteria ensure that all vendors engaged in data-collection must make it plainly known to TV viewers, as well as offer them an explicit option to opt out of having their data collected and used for advertising or audience targeting. Brands must remain totally aware of whether the vendors they work with are in compliance with such standards. If they aren’t, there exists the possibility that the FTC could require manufacturers engaged in data collection to cease doing so. If non-compliance goes public, very much a risk, the brand themselves may be left with extremely troublesome and expensive PR damage to deal with.
The standards mean compliant, leading TV OEMs, like Vizio and their subsidiary Inscape for example, can busy themselves collecting data from viewers who have opted into allowing their behaviour to be measured this way. However, there are still other providers of differing types of TV ACR data that may yet fall under the eye of the FTC. Vendors who collect data via audio-based identification of TV content could be an example. Rather than working with TVs that recognize themselves what they are showing, these vendors use apps to listen in to try to identify what a TV in near-proximity is showing. Apart from often requiring the app to be in use while the TV is showing specific content (meaning perfect timing is required for this approach to be of any use), this type of data collection has increasingly come under focus for what has been deemed an almost surreptitious way to collect data on TV viewers. If pressure and bad publicity follows, the FTC may act to curtail this approach.