What Sky knows about you, and what they can do about it

10 November 2009

Bitterwallet - Sky collect personal dataEvery day we fill in forms, on paper or online, that provide the option of keeping our personal data private, or allowing it to be shared with third parties. Most of us never think of the implications these decisions have, beyond more direct mail shoveled through the letterbox. For example, do we ever consider there are companies that aggregate our information in order to profile us? And what these profiles could be used for?

All very sinister and paranoid, but then Sky isn't making any bones about what they're up to. Yesterday customers received an email about changes to the Sky Player terms and conditions; the changes primarily focused on a new contextual advertising system called AdSmart, which was announced in September with little fanfare. AdSmart will allow Sky to target customers watching on-demand Sky programmes with advertising tailored to the viewer, beginning with online services and subsequently rolling out to HD customers:

We are writing to let you know about some changes we are making to the Sky Player terms and conditions, including the way we provide advertising on Sky Player.

In future [sic], the advertising you see on Sky Player may be better tailored to your interests. The new system, which is called Sky AdSmart, uses customer information to replace some general adverts with ones which we believe to be more relevant to viewers' potential preferences and interests.

We will take information that you have provided to us as a Sky customer (for example, your post code or TV package), in combination with data provided by other companies who have your permission to share information about you, to build up a picture of what types of products and services might be of interest to you. We then substitute standard adverts with ones we believe are more tailored to your interests.

Have a read through about how Sky is sourcing this information about you; it's not only personal data you supply to them, but information Sky has bought from other companies, plus your browsing habits too. It might be data you gave permission to be shared, but did you expect it to be stored and combined with other sets of information in order to profile your personality? When we sign our personal information away, we not only relinquish the data but also any say in how a third party might use it or who they provide it to. But what can Sky do with our data? Beam dazzlingly relevant adverts into our brains? And the rest:

Sky may also use your information for the following purposes:

· to enable us to comply with any legal requirements, in the detection and prevention of fraud and other crimes, and for the purpose of safeguarding national security;

Preventing fraud is not unreasonable - you're involved in financial transactions with a business, after all. But Sky is also aggregating data that can be used to "safeguard national security". Everybody is happy with where this is leading, right? Far from simply handing over your name and address, Sky can supply in-depth customer profiles to the police and other security bodies with impunity.

Can you opt out of Sky collecting all this information about you? Seemingly not. Out of AdSmart? Yes, but as Bitterwallet reader Billy pointed out to us, it's an almost entirely useless way of doing so:

The Audience Science cookie enables behavioural advertising. Audience Science uses the cookie to place your device in certain advertising segments (e.g. sports segment) based on the content you view on Sky online services and websites and selected third party websites.

[To opt-out of the cookie] Audience Science will send an “opt-out cookie” to your device: please note that if you subsequently delete all of your cookies, you will also delete the Audience Science opt-out cookie.

So Sky will automatically drop a cookie into your browser as part of their terms, but to opt out you have to accept a second cookie which will be deleted if clear them? Foolproof. And this cookie only disables the AdSmart service; it certainly doesn't prevent Sky gathering the information.

For plenty of people these sort of terms won't matter and they'll be perfectly acceptable in exchange for using Sky Player. But Phorm snooped on online users habits and were ran out the country; Sky is warehousing user data from multiple sources and it's perfectly acceptable. What do Sky know about you?

TOPICS:   Privacy


  • The B.
    Another reason to tell Murdoch where to stick it.
  • Rembrandt
    So fuck
  • CompactDistance
    Isn't this exactly what Google do and how they operate the opt-out?
  • nibbles
    Google doesn't buys in data from third parties do they?? Sky collecting data from customers using its own services is quite different to buying it from lots of other companies - that's a little scary.
  • Nobby
    Sky know I don't have Sky.
  • d3money
    good luck explaining to the missus the sudden rise in X rated advertising come through the box lately - I've already seen a surprising amount of redhot.tv advertising on skysports news ??? stupid cookie - gulp!
  • Mark
    Phorm snooped on ALL of you browsing. This just snoops on what you look at on Sky's website. I'm not completely against targeted advertising to be honest.
  • waldo
    use IE for skyplayer, and firefox for everything else, simples
  • waldo
    plus if you never opt out of website sharing your info with others the you are a fool
  • Brian
    Hi, my name is Brian. I have a wank at 8.15 every morning. Will Sky know about this? (i don't use a cam)
  • Marcus S.
    Another invasion of privacy, but little different to what tesco (look up tesco crucible database - likely where sky will be buying a lot of info from) or google do. " dunnhumby, a subsidiary of shopping giant Tesco is using the information from its Clubcard "loyalty" scheme to build a database on every single consumer home in the UK. The database is called Crucible and it combines Clubcard data and other sources like credit reference agency data with "intelligent profiling and targetting" to answer questions about you in a way that avoids it having to comply with Data Protection Act disclosure rules. It maps 10 characteristics: "wealth, promotions, travel, charities, green, time poor, credit, living style, creature of habit and adventurous" and the data about you (which it refuses to disclose to you) is being sold to companies including Orange, Sky and Gillette (of RFID 'spychip' fame). But hey, if you've got nothing to hide there's nothing to worry about, right? " "Companies such as Experian, Claritas and Equifax have databases on individuals and Crucible collects from them all, it collates information on every household, either through its own club card or through swapping information with other consumer groups, such as Sky, Orange and Gillette.. " http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2005/sep/20/freedomofinformation.supermarkets
  • Ian N.
    So what do you think Sky would do if we asked for this information under the data protection act. Come on, somebody is going to do that, right?
  • mack
    No way =O

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