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YouView in the News; Microscope and IoT Now

Could YouView save our home from surveillance marketing by the Big Browser brigade

Read the Microscope article here.

I hate to sound like one of the Gloominatti, but the creepiness of the big Browser brigade makes me wary about tech giants who stand to infiltrate our connected homes.

Alexa: what’s the creepiest phrase in IT? “We value your privacy.”

What that devious duplicitous phrase really means is ‘we put a price on your privacy’ – and they sell it to the highest bidder.

‘Smart’ is another phrase with double sided coinage. A more accurate name for any Smart gadgetry, whether it’s a router a meter or a virtual personal assistant, would be snooping technology.

I don’t want to open my home up to someone who ‘values’ my privacy. But I’d welcome someone who respects it.

At the vanguard of the privacy respecting movement is YouView, the connected TV coalition. There is a really important role for the reseller channel too, because equipment vendors, installers and systems integrators could make people aware of close off all the opportunities for unwanted intrusions.

The connected home threatens to invade our privacy even more than it has already. The companies best placed to exploit our personal lives are the ‘Big Browser’ crowd: Google, Amazon and Facebook, any of those companies that seem to use Orwell’s dystopian novel NineTeen Eighty Four as an instruction manual for their creepy surveillance marketing techniques.

The connected home could be wonderfully liberating. Companies like D Link, Netgear, Samsung and TP Link are creating fantastic opportunities for the channel to connect everything in the home to the Internet. Everything from your boiler to your blood pressure can be monitored and managed by an experienced professional. But how do we get a machine to machine network without our smart meters becoming snoop mongers? Machine to machine communications could liberate us from toil but exactly the opposite will happen if the Big Browser crowd use the IoT to create an Internment of Things.

The danger is that US tech giants own all the relationships with consumers, according to Jeff Hunter, the chief architect behind YouView.

The connected home is a real opportunity because it builds a bridge into everything we do. Our health, our shopping habits, our work. Can it be healthy for companies like Facebook to extend their tentacles?

The connected TV companies of which YouView comprises (including BT, the BBC, Channels 4 and 5) have an audience that spends four hours a day interacting with them.

Could they provide a more palpable and socially responsible conduit for all the information being gathered about consumer habits? The intelligence gathered about how people use the IoT in their connected homes could be anonymised and used for constructive and socially useful purposes, promises Hunter.

“YouView aims to provide a safe trusted environment, a brand you can trust to have no ulterior motive,” says Hunter.

The firm proposes to use anonymised information about, say, usage patterns of devices, but for management purposes, Hunter says.

In this case I’m confident that’s not one of those IT industry weasel words, like ‘for training purposes’ which really means ‘for intimidation purposes’.

The aim of YouView is to help the ISPs, such as BT, PlusNet and Talk, to stream data more effectively. “We aim to monitor the health of the platform and to detect and address issues before they have an impact on the network,” says Hunter. Yes, they might personalise your experiences to help streams of data run more effectively one way, and streams of revenue the other, but the difference is your personal life is not being violated.

In the meantime, the resellers of the kit have an opportunity to add value. In July cyber security firm eSentire identified a new, coordinated campaign to attack home routers. Its 2018 Q1 Threat Report noted a 539% rise in attacks on consumer-grade routers (like Netgear and Linksys) from Q4 2017 to Q1 2018.

D-Link has its answer with its Covr Dual Band Whole Home Wi-Fi System. The problem with all this IoT equipment is that people never change the default passwords, so surely there’s a massive opportunity for, say, The D-Link channel and other partners to secure the smart home.

Let’s hope a responsible outfit like YouView is the enabler – not the ‘smart’ surveillance marketing creeps in the Big Browser compound.


Is The TV Remote Control Soon To Become Extinct?

Read the Forbes article here.

Is the TV remote control soon to become extinct? Can it become forever lost down the back of the couch and no one will care? The remotes for the stereo and climate control could potentially go and join it in the obsolete tech graveyard in the not too distant future too.

In partnership with apps, smartphones and tablets could gradually take over the job of the remotes that control home entertainment. And they won’t only take control of in-home entertainment either. Smartphones are already taking control of home lighting, climate control and security systems.

Although smartphones themselves may not have that much time to shine as the controller of the home either, as technology will increasingly be able to listen and react directly to the human voice and body movements.

And as Gilles Boisselet, creative partner at global production partner UNIT9, points out, smartphones don’t lend themselves to group activities. “TV remotes are an antiquated piece of technology. They don’t embed software. They’re ugly. And they’re unhelpfully proprietary. But what can we use to replace them?

“The most obvious solution would be a mobile phone. We could use mobiles as TV remote replacements in the same way that some generations use their mobiles as music speakers. But there’s one major flaw: mobiles are personal devices and TV is still mostly a group activity. So voice-activated devices like Alexa will probably take over. Smart connected TVs can integrate voice control to replace their own ugly remotes.”  

U.K.-based smart-TV platform YouView is currently trialing integrating Amazon’s voice-activated virtual assistant Amazon Alexa with its systems.  YouView’s executive creative and brand director, Fani Sazaklidou, explains what this entails: “YouView announced its partnership with Alexa last year, and since then we have been working intensively to develop a search functionality that reflects the way people use their voice to search for content more naturally.”

What YouView has already discovered is that the entire search process changes dramatically when the remote control is taken away. “Viewers tend to hunt with voice and graze with a remote,” reveals Sazaklidou. “Voice search requires different meta tags, as the terms that viewers use with voice are much wider and more unpredictable from the way in which text-based search is conducted.

“We also see that the adoption of voice search for TV is not instant, it takes some getting used to, but when viewers adopt a voice-first approach, they tend to switch permanently, only occasionally using their remote. As more devices like Alexa make their way into our living rooms using voice to control our entertainment will only become natural. I predict that this will seem like a slow transition and then will happen all of a sudden.”

Looking back to the death of the cassette tape, new technology often takes over quicker than expected. “It might seem strange at the moment, but it won’t be long before remotes are retired and voice takes over,” predicts Mark Lippett, CEO of embedded voice and audio company XMOS.

“After all, the voice is the most natural way for us to communicate. In the future, you won’t need a remote to make your new TV work. You will just say ‘find Poldark, series one, episode four’ – from anywhere in the room – and the TV will know exactly what application or platform it needs to open for that specific TV series, providing a simpler, richer experience for consumers.”

There are still some cheerleaders for the TV remote control, however. Peter Docherty, founder and CTO of personalized content recommendations engine provider ThinkAnalytics, says that it is not about to become obsolete because different people like to navigate tech in different ways and they always will.

“There’s no one best way to do everything – the remote has a place for channel zapping and controlling functions with shortcut buttons. Even with voice, you can still speak into the remote; in fact, the combination of near-field and far-field microphones is necessary.

“Voice, tablets, and mobiles all offer different benefits. But you wouldn’t want to do everything with voice, even if you could. And having to get your mobile, unlock it and launch the TV app just to change the channel or adjust the volume is not going to be the best user experience.”

It seems that the TV remote control is not going to be consigned to the scrapyard just yet, but it’s unlikely to dominate home entertainment systems forever.