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Google Researchers Propose TV Eavesdropping

Two Google research scientists want your computer to watch television with you so it can deliver personalized Internet content at the same time.

In a research paper presented last week at interactive television conference Euro ITV in Athens, Greece, Google researchers Michele Covell and Shumeet Baluja propose using ambient-audio identification technology to capture TV sound with a laptop PC to identify the show that is the source of the sound and to use that information to immediately return personalized Internet content to the PC.

"We showed how to sample the ambient sound emitted from a TV and automatically determine what is being watched from a small signature of the sound—all with complete privacy and minuscule effort," Covell and Baluja write on the Google Research Blog. "The system could keep up with users while they channel surf, presenting them with a real-time forum about a live political debate one minute and an ad-hoc chat room for a sporting event in the next."

The scheme is described in the research paper using a term that seems to be an oxymoron: mass personalization. It might also be characterized as a mixture of oil and water, a combination of television broadcasting and Internet narrowcasting.

"Mass-media channels typically provide limited content to many people," the paper explains, "the Web provides vast amounts of information, most of interest to few. ... Our goal is to combine the best of both worlds: integrating the relaxing and effortless experience of mass-media content with the interactive and personalized potential of the Web, providing mass personalization."

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