Tivo thinks I'm gay
November 26, 2002 9:47 AM   Subscribe

My Tivo thinks I'm a gay pregnant man! This article documents the struggles that some people have gone to in order to gear Tivo's programming to their interests. As one man said of himself: " [I] often [order] cooking shows, which softens TiVo's view of [me]. "I don't want it thinking I'm an ax murderer,".
posted by Raichle (33 comments total)
I've certainly experienced with with Amazon. And a friend who buys even more books than I declared that Amazon had pegged him as a gay serial killer into children's literature--obviously not a very savory character. If this is the level of the AI in Poindexter's new Total Information Awareness project, we should all nervous.
posted by SealWyf at 10:10 AM on November 26, 2002

Many consumers appreciate having computers delve into their hearts and heads. But some say it gives them the willies, because the machines either know them too well or make cocksure assumptions about them that are way off base.
posted by sgt.serenity at 10:12 AM on November 26, 2002

" "
posted by sgt.serenity at 10:12 AM on November 26, 2002

This is why I have Replay & UltimateTV... I don't need some machine thinking for me...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 10:14 AM on November 26, 2002

Your technology is watching you...
posted by dazed_one at 10:18 AM on November 26, 2002

Hilarious article! In my experience Tivo is waaaaaaay off base but Amazon has become my gift-shopping buddy/confidante.
posted by banjotwang at 10:20 AM on November 26, 2002

Gee. I have a tivo and it doesn't think for me -- I simply told it not to bother recording things unless I explicitly ask for them. Really, there are better things to do in this world than allowing your pvr to record things willy nilly just so you can sit down in front of the tv and be assured of something to watch. Read a book! Take a walk!

(I'm in the "you'll have to pry my tivo from my cold, dead fingers" camp, but that doesn't mean I watch any more tv than I did before I had the beast)

Am I the only one who find people upset that an inanimate object "thinks" they're a homosexual? C'mon, that's so gay!
posted by jburka at 10:26 AM on November 26, 2002

Actually, I think this is a moderately clever marketing strategy for sites like Amazon. As people search for items to balance out the site's "perception" of them, they're spending more time on the site looking at merchandise. This could lead to more sales.
posted by rainfallsix at 10:38 AM on November 26, 2002

My TiVo's suggestions are usually very good, most of the time it records syndicated shows based on the season pass. It also records based on wishlists, the ones that aren't set to autorecord. Occassionally it will record some crap, but that gets thumbs downed immediately.
posted by riffola at 10:40 AM on November 26, 2002

A few months ago, my TiVo decided (out of the blue) that I was a huge fan of Western Movies. I haven't watched (or really enjoyed) a western film since "Unforgiven" - and that, I saw in the theater years ago. I had no idea how it made this decision, but it went with it full-throttle. In a few days, my TiVo suggestions was completely full of John Wayne and 1940's AMC Cowboy Classics. I felt like I was putting out a small brush fire and started voting 'thumbs-down' on every one of them, but they'd sprout again the next day. After about a week of this, TiVo got the point, and I am no longer plagued by Cowpokes. Now I have to convince it that more people live in my house than my two-year-old with her fixation on "Maisy" and "Bear in the Big Blue House".
posted by kokogiak at 10:50 AM on November 26, 2002

Amazon thinks I'm a gay male computer geek. I'm not, but for some reason, they recommend all the gay-themed stuff they can find. I find it amusing, really. It was the Hanif Kureishi books that did it, I think.
posted by greengrl at 10:51 AM on November 26, 2002

How to make Tivo's suggestions work for you:

1) Turn off the 'auto-record suggestions' option
2) At least once, go into the 'record programs >record by title >all programs' area, punch in a zero and pull up all the programs listed on the schedule. Scroll through and mark the shows you feel strongly about with a 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down'.
3) About once every week or two, go into Tivo's suggestions and browse through the recommended titles. Hit 'record' for those that interest you.
posted by Dirjy at 10:58 AM on November 26, 2002

All you Tivo owners are in for a surprise when your preferences find their way into the government's Total Information Awareness database.

Do you really want John Ashcroft to know you gave a "thumbs down" to the 700 Club?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:00 AM on November 26, 2002

You know, I just might have to go out and buy a Tivo precisely because John Ashcroft will know I gave a "thumbs down" to the 700 Club.
posted by ssmith at 11:20 AM on November 26, 2002

Your technology is watching you...

... and it think that you're gay!
posted by St Seneca at 11:28 AM on November 26, 2002

Am I the only one who thinks this is a silly thing to get worked up about? It's not like TiVo is forcing you to watch any of this . . . yet.

You all could be suffering from PTSlaveryD or something worse. That'll give you something to complain about.
posted by archimago at 11:55 AM on November 26, 2002

The problems listed in this article are symptomatic of undertraining the TiVo. It's hard to classify a viewer based on only a few data points. I have the opposite problem. I've overtrained my TiVo, and now its suggestions lack all element of surprise. I never see anything new unless I start channel surfing, which sorta defeats the purpose.

On the bright side, the TiVo does confirm my sexual preference on a daily basis.
posted by Galvatron at 12:38 PM on November 26, 2002

This sort of thing happens with regular mail-order outfits as well. I've somehow got on the mailing lists of all sorts of evangelical Christian book publishers--which is odd, since I'm Jewish. (Or maybe that's the point. Hmmm...)
posted by thomas j wise at 12:45 PM on November 26, 2002

Ultimately, this is all about metadata.

There are only two ways in which Amazon or TiVo can generalize from a set of concrete purchases / recordings to make suggestions:

1) "People who bought x also bought y; people who bought y also bought z" etc. In this way items with a common theme can get grouped together -- but this is correlation, not causation. The reason that you bought x is not necessarily the reason that the other person (the one who also bought y) bought x. The comment in the article about the guy who recorded a movie because he was in it (only to find TiVo recording everything else in that category) applies perfectly.

2) Categorization of products at the content-creator level , which is of course also rife with oversimplification. This is like how my grandfather used to clip and send me every newspaper or magazine article he encountered with the word "computer" in the title after I told him I was majoring in CS. The people making the judgements are not the ones who are actually interested in the content, so they don't necessarily make the right judgements.
posted by sesquipedalia at 1:31 PM on November 26, 2002

Tivos are gay. And pushing their agenda upon you.
posted by WolfDaddy at 1:37 PM on November 26, 2002

Does anyone else find it odd that lots of people are modifying their behavior to change a machine's opinions of them?
posted by faustessa at 1:55 PM on November 26, 2002

My problem was my Tivo thought I was straight, so I had to make a wishlist with the keyword gay and go through it selecting things gay to record.
posted by benjh at 1:58 PM on November 26, 2002

Next on Springer: "My gay home entertainment system is hitting on me!"
posted by monosyllabic at 2:00 PM on November 26, 2002 [1 favorite]

You know, I just might have to go out and buy a Tivo precisely because John Ashcroft will know I gave a "thumbs down" to the 700 Club.
Oh sure. You're all cocky NOW. But wait till you've had a 'few' months at GitMo to reconsider!
posted by HTuttle at 5:38 PM on November 26, 2002

My Tivo seems to think I like Spanish News shows. I don't know why.
posted by owillis at 5:45 PM on November 26, 2002

put down the remote and back away s l o w l y ...
posted by deborah at 5:49 PM on November 26, 2002

<Ralph Wiggam voice> My Tivo thinks I'm gay</Ralph Wiggam voice>
posted by elwoodwiles at 6:29 PM on November 26, 2002

It's already law that government can search your library records. What makes you think they won't soon be searching your Amazon.com records, MeFi comments, etc. on the internet?
posted by tio2d at 7:27 PM on November 26, 2002

That's exactly what I found to be interesting about it. I had hoped that people would focus more on that than on telling us obvious facts about how TiVo works. Yes, I am aware that you can turn it off. Yes, I am aware that it is not a perfect system. What I thought set this story apart from many others about the same thing was the lengths that these people were willing to go to in order to have it pick programming for them. If they had spent half the time researching movies that they might be interested in as they spent trying to outwit a machine...or dedicated their energies into finding a cure for cancer...then they might be find themselves alot less frustrated.
posted by Raichle at 7:38 PM on November 26, 2002

What makes you think they won't soon be searching your Amazon.com records, MeFi comments, etc. on the internet?

You mean if I post something on MetaFilter, other people can see it?
posted by kindall at 9:10 PM on November 26, 2002

Interesting correlation for fans of Babylon 5 at Amazon.
posted by beth at 9:21 PM on November 26, 2002

I do not EVER give accurate information on any application (credit card, web site membership, Government forms etc.). I stop using resources (banks, stores etc.) if they will not allow me to opt out of mailings, recommendations etc. I ALWAYS answer survey questions but I lie. When called but telemarketers I start asking them questions to waste their time and hopefully impact their income.

I love western comforts and all the fun toys but get off my back already with the constant bombardment of recommendations, phone calls for crap, junk snail mail and spam e-mails.


Is anyone else sick of the relentless profiling and do you lie to marketers?
posted by arse_hat at 9:30 PM on November 26, 2002

The good thing about profiling is that if they know what you like and try to sell it to you, what's wrong with that? Seriously, I actually like getting advertisments for stuff that I want/like - It's the UNTARGETED advertisments that piss me off.
posted by Veritron at 9:45 AM on November 28, 2002

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