Broadcasting

IRIS Special 2015 - Smart TV and data protection

Author: Maja Cappello (Ed.), European Audiovisual Observatory

Published: 01/03/2016

This is obviously a scene taken from a science-fiction film (Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report"). However, it is not so far away from what we can experience  today.  In  the  age  of  the Internet,  connected TV sets and "second screens",  the  possibilities  of  obtaining  personal  data  of media users - in both legal and illegal ways - have multiplied exponentially. Such data is a very important commodity for advertisers, which can be used  to  provide  individually  targeted  ads  on online  services and on various kinds of connected devices. Furthermore, personal data obtained via  search engines, social media and connected devices can be used as a means to provide a better experience for the user of an online service.

However, the obtaining and use of personal data by third parties, whether provided willingly or inadvertently by the users, can also have a very intrusive effect on their personal lives. Moreover, there are situations in which the insight into a user's life exceeds what a user is prepared to accept.

This becomes particularly evident in the case of audiovisual consumption through Smart TVs, which are becoming a common equipment  in  our  homes.  Their  worldwide  presence  has  doubled from 2011 to 2015, and their average penetration will soon reach the majority of European households.

According to a very general definition, a Smart TV is a TV that possesses a variety of connective capabilities, including in any case an internet connection. When connected, these devices are able to collect a variety of information about their users, including  social  backgrounds  and financial profiles, which can be used to influence online user behaviour for direct  marketing purposes or for the profiling of the users for advertising activities. Their functions include voice and facial recognition, motion sensing, account creation and many other interactive capabilities.

Considering the constant substitution process of traditional broadcasting with non-linear interactive (and smart) consumption of audiovisual content, it becomes more and more important to have adequate tools capable of ensuring an effective balance between the providers' wish  to optimise their offers and give recommendations based on the personal choice of the users and the increased need to protect the latter against the risk of reduction of choice, information isolation and, in the worst cases, manipulation.

The current regulatory framework in this domain is particularly  scattered  and  includes  a variety of sources: a special media regulation in the audiovisual  media  services  directive;  sector- specific rules in the e-communications framework, the e-commerce directive and the e-privacy directive; a general privacy framework in the data protection directive and the general data protection regulation; and an umbrella regulation including the consumer protection framework and the human rights dimension.

Against this multifaceted legal background, various interpretative issues are rising at national level as to the processing of personal data by Smart TV operators. This IRIS Special, which has been written by the Institute of Information Law {IViR) of the University of Amsterdam, provides  an overview of the specifics of Smart TVs compared with other forms of audiovisual media. It further examines the regulatory framework that governs them, before investigating four case-studies and reflecting upon the on-going regulatory reforms.

The developments we are already witnessing, which for instance include Smart Homes equipped with family hub refrigerators and Smart Things such as connected healthcare belts, seem indeed to require an integrated perspective where all issues are consistently dealt with. This also becomes important from an institutional point of view, where a coordination between the various public actors is probably more necessary than ever. These issues are being addressed, among others, by the new General data protection regulation on which an agreement was reached between the Council, the Parliament and the Commission on 15 December 2015.1

This publication gives a first insight into the outcome of this long-lasting decision  making process, which started in 2012. Its draft also contributed to setting the scene for a  workshop organised by the Observatory on 11 December 2015 in Strasbourg, entitled "The grey areas between media regulation and data protection"2, which discussed, among other things, the challenges that the various stakeholders - media regulators, data protectors, industry, media service providers and consumers - are currently facing. The issues at stake deserve well-informed participation, and the following chapters are intended to contribute an outline of the main questions concerning the interactive consumption of audiovisual content. More will certainly have to follow.

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