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Replay TV and Privacy
April 2, 2001 7:58 PM   Subscribe

Ok, maybe TiVo isn't sticking it to people (over privacy), even though they can. Their competition, however, is. (Link courtesy this week's RISKS Digest, which also has a piece of mine on Internet voting and it's potential pitfalls :-)
posted by baylink (11 comments total)

 
My take on Tog's rant: waaaaaaaah! He wants to have his cake and eat it too. Do you think he's complaining about the other parts of the operating system upgrade -- manual recording, padding of recording timeslots, and ability to schedule recordings via the web? Probably not; he just hates that part of the upgrade is showing him ads.

The license currently reads, in part: "You acknowledge and agree that ReplayTV may periodically update, modify or enhance the Software remotely through the RTVS" -- now while I'm not sure that it read that exact way when he clicked through it to start his ReplayTV setup, I'm willing to bet that it did. I'm also willing to bet that Tog knew that his ReplayTV would periodically download new system upgrades. The fact that one of those upgrades inconveniences him by showing him an ad doesn't make me feel too terribly bad for him.
posted by delfuego at 8:52 AM on April 3, 2001


The fact that one of those upgrades inconveniences him by showing him an ad doesn't make me feel too terribly bad for him.

Your having a higher tolerance for advertising doesn't change the fact that he's got a point. As he puts it, "'Buyer Beware!' is one thing, but how can you beware of what the manufacturer will do to damage or degrade your product years after you bought and paid for it?"

Software is going the subscription model, starting with the web. As a Mac guy, I know a lot of people who rely on a version of Word that's four generations out of date, generally because it best meets their needs, but in some cases because their computers really can't run the latest and greatest. That option is about to go away, which gives real teeth to the whimsical concept of planned obsolescence. You'll use the software you paid for exactly as long as Microsoft wants you to, before Microsoft wants you to pay for it again.

ReplayTV is the canary in the coalmine. It's not helpful to tell Tog "nyah nyah nyah legalcakes" for pointing out that the canary is dead.
posted by bumppo at 9:08 AM on April 3, 2001


The license currently reads, in part: "You acknowledge and agree that ReplayTV may periodically update, modify or enhance the Software remotely through the RTVS"...Tog knew that his ReplayTV would periodically download new system upgrades.

Yeah, but "update, modify, or enhance" doesn't usually mean "rip out half the functionality." I thought one of the main selling points of this kind of system was being able to blip past all the commercials. I don't see how you can call disabling this function an "upgrade."
posted by straight at 9:29 AM on April 3, 2001


Speaking of digital video recorders, the TiVo service -- rumored be financially ailing -- is in May increasing the price of its "lifetime" subscription to $249. Current month-to-month and annual subscribers can upgrade at the current $199 rate through this month. Cost of doing business or desperate attempt to bolster financials?
posted by bradlands at 9:36 AM on April 3, 2001


So, if you had a choice of whether to upgrade, knowing what was going to change, would that be better? At least then, you could make an informed decision about whether the new features were worth the commercials.
posted by harmful at 9:37 AM on April 3, 2001


Uh, folks? This happened in November, and when users complained, ReplayTV restored the freeze-frame to the way it used to work. I don't know why Tog is griping about it now, but even when it was in effect, you could still skip the commercials while watching stored or delayed shows - you just cut to a stored ad if you paused the TV for more than a minute or so.

So except for when you were watching Gilmore Girls with your pants off, it wasn't really that much of a problem.
posted by nicwolff at 12:17 PM on April 3, 2001


I think the point of Tog's rant isn't in particular that he got screwed by Replay's updates, but rather that software is heading in a dangerous direction. The ReplayTV story was just an illustration. delfuego, whether you feel sorry for him or not, you have to agree that it's frustrating and annoying for a service provider you rely on to break one of your favorite features, whether you signed an agreement to that effect or not.
posted by daveadams at 12:25 PM on April 3, 2001


I have to wonder if ReplayTV's "buy it once and get free service for life" price position is a part of the problem here. TiVo would never do this because people would cancel their service, which they pay for separately from the hardware, and cancel it in droves. But exactly what are your moral grounds for griping about something you're not even paying for?
posted by kindall at 2:24 PM on April 3, 2001


kindall: TiVo would never do this because people would cancel their service, which they pay for separately from the hardware, and cancel it in droves.

I believe most people have too much invested in their faces to do that to their noses.

If TiVo boxes supported third-party service providers, you'd be right. But they don't, and everybody I know with a TiVo says their relationship to television changed overnight, they could never go back, etc. Very few would turn their prize back into a pumpkin at the mere threat of a slippery slope.

But exactly what are your moral grounds for griping about something you're not even paying for?

Hey now. Replay's users _did_ pay for ReplayTV. In fact they paid a premium over TiVo, often strictly to avoid the hassle of monthly fees. That's a legitimate transaction, whether or not the underlying technical model puts consumers at the ongoing mercy of the corporation.

There is no moral imperative in paying protection money to maintain a completed transaction, or to maintain the justifiability of complaint when that transaction is unilaterally amended. You seem to be equating morality with a subscriber model, and that's a bunch of bunk.
posted by bumppo at 2:54 PM on April 3, 2001


I'm not making an argument, I'm simulating the line of thinking the people at ReplayTV that made this decision. ReplayTV's pricing model is what allowed them to think, "Hey, let's try putting ads on the pause function. After all, we're providing a service for free that costs us money! Why should that be?" It's the same mindset that makes companies look at their technical support department and go, "Whoa, is there any way to turn this huge money sink into a profit center?" Thus the advent of 900 technical support... but I digress.

Of course it's a bunch of bunk.That goes without saying. But with a subscription model you know where the revenue is coming from to cover the costs of that service, you know what your margin is, and you're not quite as tempted to seek additional sources of revenue. More to the point, your subscribers already feel like they're paying for the service and will object even more vociferously to advertising. (ReplayTV's users did too, but the point is that ReplayTV didn't expect them to.)
posted by kindall at 6:45 PM on April 3, 2001


Back in December, TidBITS mentioned digital video recorders in the annual gift guide, and one of the people who suggested it had an interesting comment. "At a party last month, a guy asked me what the big deal was. I began by telling him that it's hard to describe and that you have to live with it to understand its implications, and then ran down my litany of reasons why TiVo is wonderful. Twenty minutes later, he still only cared about whether or not it automatically removes commercials."

The ReplayTV unit was the one with the commercial-skip feature; TiVo only allowed you to fast-forward at insane rates like 60X (one minute per second). It's probably why networks cooperate with TiVo and sometimes put "TiVomatic" icons on programs to make it easier to record them: even at 60X, I occasionally see a commercial flash by that I want to look at, and I stop and watch it. ReplayTV's system absolutely eliminated that possibility by a raw skip of 30 seconds per button press.

It seems to me that people researching both systems would have been more strongly drawn to ReplayTV if they absolutely hated commercials and wanted them excised from their viewing lives. To those people, the insertion of new ads might very well seem like a betrayal, where TiVo owners would probably just shrug and hit another button. Or at least I would. Just now, while typing, I forgot to hit the fast-forward button on a stored show, and wound up hearing (and then seeing) a commercial for a show I very much wanted to know about.

Small differences in feature sets lead to very different user philosophies. Try asking the difference between Linux and FreeBSD on Slashdot sometime.
posted by mdeatherage at 6:50 PM on April 3, 2001


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