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YouView data collection: Big Brother TV or paranoid conspiracy?

What’s happened?

YouView’s terms and conditions reveal that the Humax DTR-1000 – on sale this week – collects data about you and returns it to YouView and its partners with your identity stripped out.

The difference between YouView and earlier Freeview boxes is that they weren’t connected to your broadband, so they couldn’t tell anyone what you were watching.

Newspaper pundits are already protesting the latest invasion of our privacy, but how extreme is YouView’s data collection?

What information does YouView collect?

A lot: your device settings and preferences, parental controls, postcode, IP address, your ‘journey’ through YouView’s menus, several anonymous ID numbers from the YouView box itself, plus ‘operational and error data’. 

If your box crashes or fails in some way, they’ll know what it was doing and what went wrong, but there are lots of other uses for this data.

Who can see it?

YouView is a partnership of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, BT, TalkTalk and Arqiva (which owns and operates the UK’s Freeview and digital radio transmitters, among other things).

There are also content providers and third parties for the on-demand services – Sky has said it will add its Now TV films and entertainment service later this year, and providers such as Netflix, Lovefilm and Blinkbox are unlikely to ignore it if there are enough users.

YouView says: “We will only share your information to the extent this is necessary to enable those service providers to provide their services to us and under a strict duty of confidence.”

What does YouView do with it?

There are some things YouView can’t do without some data, such as give you the correct regional programmes from Freeview.

Commercial broadcasters need your location to accurately target adverts, the money from which enables them to make programmes. The same goes for on-demand video and services delivered over broadband.

They also track your ‘user journey’, showing how you get to the different services a YouView box can provide. This is combined into anonymous statistics that help YouView, its partners and content providers develop the box and their individual services.

YouView says these can include ‘Most Popular’ and ‘Recommendations’ on the screen, although it seems they’d need to know something about you to make a recommendation.

However, there are other ways to do this – your YouView box has a number of anonymous ID numbers for the box, its make and model and Digital Rights Management of encrypted video streams.

BT, TalkTalk, and any other ISPs who join YouView can use this data to optimise their networks to make sure films and TV shows are streamed smoothly across their networks, even at busy times.

Security might be the most alarming feature: YouView and its partners can use the various types of data ‘to identify any attempted circumvention of device security, so that we can protect our intellectual property rights and those of our content providers.’

In short, if they suspect your YouView box has been hacked to copy protected content, they can then remotely, then they can cut you off from anything except YouView and unencrypted video.

How much can they know about me?

YouView says it will provide content providers and third parties ‘anonymous and/or aggregated’ reports – they won’t be able to identify Joe Bloggs at his home address.

We require content providers who use DRM IDs not to use them for any purpose other than for digital rights management to protect intellectual property in their Content.

“None of these anonymised, aggregated reports or statistics will enable our users to be personally identified,” says YouView.

‘Most of the information we collect is purely technical in nature and relates only to our users’ YouView devices. Most of the information we hold does not specifically relate to (and cannot be linked to) any identifiable individual, and as such is not Personal Data about you.”

But they warn that nothing transmitted over the internet is 100 per cent secure. YouView adds that if they work with any service based outside of Europe, it won’t be subject to the same data protection laws we have, although ‘we will take all necessary measures to ensure those service providers protect your information adequately in accordance with this Privacy Policy’.

Can I stop YouView collecting my data?

You can opt-out of providing your postcode, although they may record that you’ve opted out, and they’ll still know your general location from your regional Freeview settings.

Under European data protection law, you can ask YouView or any of its EU-based partners to correct or update any inaccurate information about you and you can see the data for an admin fee of £10.

Who’s worried?

The Independent has several people in alarmed in Islington and Kensal Rise, and the Daily Mail gave it a paragraph in their YouView coverage. It’s an easy sideways dig at the BBC, which has a major role in YouView, so expect more coverage from the Mail’s own Chicken Lickens.

How does it compare to data collection on other products and services I own?

If you’ve signed up to Lovefilm or Now TV, they will already know who you are and what you watch, and they will have their own privacy policies. Your ISP will also know who you are, and will no doubt identify your YouView box.

As for iTunes and similar services, or Google, YouView is probably collecting the least data they can to get the job done well.

Should I be worried?

Not unless you’ve got a newspaper opinion column to write and all the good topics have been taken already.

YouView’s data might reveal your likes and dislikes, but banks and retailers already know about your shopping habits, DVD purchases, and where you like to go on holiday.

BT Vision and Virgin Media boxes are connected by default, and Sky’s boxes have always been able to call back to say where you are – and even they now have a broadband hookup.

It’s almost impossible to provide a good, profitable digital entertainment service without some user data profiling, and certainly it’s impossible to improve it and fine-tune it to your needs. 

Are targeted adverts bad? It’s mildly annoying if they get it wrong, so if you have a low annoyance threshold, by all means stay away.