Category Archives: Web/Tech

TiVo presents: a (targeted) word from our sponsor?

This afternoon, I wrote a story for the SG Newswire about TiVo offering a "feature" where subscribers can search for specific commercials:

No, it’s not opposite day, and yes, you read that correctly. Someone at
TiVo thinks that consumers really love commercials so much, they want
to be able to search through their recorded content just to find them.

[TiVo] on Monday said it is working on technology that lets viewers search for specific advertisements.

The technology, which is expected to launch in early 2006, is the
latest sign of the advertising industry’s efforts to reach consumers
who are taking advantage of high-tech products to escape the
traditional ad pitch.

[. . .]

The advertising service will let subscribers search for a product by
category or keyword, then TiVo would deliver matching commercials to
the consumer’s set-top box.

I snarkily (snarkily? Is that a word? minus ten points, Wheaton) concluded that this is a totally lame feature that nobody would ever want to use:

Soooo . . .  TiVo users complain by the tens of thousands that they want to be able to skip commercials, and TiVo gives them the ability to search for specific commercials?! Uh, okay.

TiVo must have done some market research for this feature, which leads
me to wonder, who are the idiots claiming to be technology enthusiasts
that TiVo talked to?

But now that it’s hours later, and I’ve had time to reconsider my snark . . . maybe I can be one of those idiots. I had this idea: what if TiVo subscribers were able to set up some sort of "profile" where they would check off a range of interests, as well as a range of things they are positively not interested in, and advertisers could target ads to the individual subscribers? It sort of longtails advertising, right? For example, I hate car commercials and beer commercials. But I’m interested in outdoor activities, so I respond to ads from places like REI. I am not interested in the latest Tom Cruise crap-o-rama, but I really enjoy the acting styles of Mr. Johnny Depp. I know it’s a long shot, and I know that the service as described (if I understand it correctly) is "client" side rather than "server" side, but wouldn’t it make more sense for advertisers to serve ads to people who were more likely to use the products or services they’re advertising?

I imagine that advertisers would still want to use commercials to inform consumers about new products, or new films, or whatever, and maybe there could be some auto-subscribed advertising channel which would serve anything, regardless of a subscriber’s preferences. But at the end of that commercial, the subscriber could "Thumbs Up" or "Thumbs Down" the product or service, and TiVo could adjust ads served to that subscriber accordingly.

This could even open up advertising to smaller companies who can’t afford to buy prime time slots that reach the entire country, but may be able to afford 50,000 buys for targeted audience members. I imagine that they’d get a better conversion on their ad sales.

There are obvious problems: privacy is the most glaring, but there are also several different demographics living in each house, so something would have to be done to adjust to the primary viewer of, say, CSI and the primary viewer of, say, Desperate Housewives, and the primary viewer of SpongeBob Squarepants.

I know that there are smarter people than me who read my blog. So what do you think? Shoot this full of holes and we’ll see if there’s anything left.

Schneier on Sony’s rootkit DRM

Bruce Schneier’s latest article for Wired is all about Sony’s hyperevil rootkit DRM debacle. It includes a comprehensive timeline, as well as Bruce’s efforts to get to the real story in the whole saga. Bruce says, "It’s a David and Goliath story of the tech blogs defeating a mega-corporation."

It’s a tale of extreme hubris. Sony rolled out this incredibly invasive
copy-protection scheme without ever publicly discussing its details,
confident that its profits were worth modifying its customers’
computers. When its actions were first discovered, Sony offered a "fix" that didn’t remove the rootkit, just the cloaking.

Sony claimed the rootkit didn’t phone home when it did. On Nov. 4,
Thomas Hesse, Sony BMG’s president of global digital business,
demonstrated the company’s disdain for its customers when he said, "Most people don’t even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?" in an NPR interview. Even Sony’s apology
only admits that its rootkit "includes a feature that may make a user’s
computer susceptible to a virus written specifically to target the
software."

However, imperious corporate behavior is not the real story either.

This drama is also about incompetence. Sony’s latest rootkit-removal tool actually leaves a gaping vulnerability. And Sony’s rootkit — designed to stop copyright infringement — itself may have infringed on copyright. As amazing as it might seem, the code seems to include an open-source MP3 encoder in violation of that library’s license agreement. But even that is not the real story.

It’s an epic of class-action lawsuits in California and elsewhere, and the focus of criminal
investigations. The rootkit has even been found on computers run by the
Department of Defense, to the Department of Homeland Security’s displeasure. While Sony could be prosecuted under U.S. cybercrime law, no one thinks it will be. And lawsuits are never the whole story.

This saga is full of weird twists. Some pointed out how this sort of software would degrade the reliability of Windows. Someone created malicious code that used the rootkit to hide itself. A hacker used the rootkit to avoid the spyware of a popular game. And there were even calls for a worldwide Sony boycott.
After all, if you can’t trust Sony not to infect your computer when you
buy its music CDs, can you trust it to sell you an uninfected computer
in the first place? That’s a good question, but — again — not the
real story.

So what is the real story? I’m not going to steal Bruce’s thunder, or deprive Wired of your precious clicks. So if you’re interested, I highly recommend giving it a read.

haloscan fix it guide

A lot of the blogs I read use Haloscan for their comments. Many of them are reporting problems with Haloscan in the last 24 hours or so.

Via Crooks & Liars, I stumbled upon a solution which I reprint here as a public service announcement:

Haloscan Fix it guide

Bloggers, go into Beta features in Haloscan and in
the middle of the column it says Spam filters. Just say "no" and your
comments will come back up. Hat tip Jane
for the info. 

I’m not a Haloscan user, so this doesn’t affect me at all, but I know a lot of bloggers are, so I hope this workaround helps you out.

problems with the iTunes Music Store?

As I noted earlier this week at the SG Newswire, Apple has updated just about everything, including a new version of iTunes, where they’re offering sales of ABC shows like Lost and Desperate Housewives.

Since I upgraded to iTunes 6, I’ve noticed lots of problems with the iTunes Music Store. I’ve purchased three albums this week, and on two of them, I got an error that "We could not complete your request. An unknown error occurred (502)" (thanks for that useful error message, guys!) which stopped my download. Earlier this week, I waited a few minutes, checked for purchased music, and the download picked up where it left off.

However,today I purchased The Mirror Conspiracy from Thievery Corporation (holy shit is it a great album) and the same thing happened . . . but this time, when I checked for purchased music, it said I had everything I’d paid for, which is wrong, because one of the songs is nowhere to be found on my machine. It’s probably due to the insane load on their servers right now, and
I’m going to contact customer support and see if they can help me.

I read at the Unofficial Apple Weblog that an episode of Lost was – har- lost, but when he was able to get his file later on. I have not been so lucky. Has anyone else had problems like this?