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