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Verizon faces media storm from targeted advertising patent

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Steve Donohue, FierceCableThat story we broke last Friday about a targeted advertising patent application from Verizon (NYSE: VZ) resulted in quite a media storm this week, with dozens of local and national media outlets running stories about the possibility of Verizon using cameras and microphones to monitor the conversations and possessions of subscribers.

Even Brian Williams weighed in on the Verizon patent with a segment on NBC Nightly News last night. "A lot of talk on the Web today about a proposed new technology that would stare back at you and try to figure things out about you while you watch TV," Williams said.

Verizon initially declined to discuss our story, as it typically doesn't comment on patent applications. But after the CBS station in Washington. D.C., picked up our piece, and the CBS story was picked up by Drudge Report, Huffington Post and other outlets, Verizon posted this statement Wednesday on its policy blog. "There's been some discussion today about a highly speculative news report from this morning, that no doubt is giving drive-time talk radio--not to mention tech blogs--something to discuss," wrote Libby Jacobson, the company's director of digital policy communications. "Verizon is a company that prizes innovation, and we take pride in the many innovators whose work is represented in our patents and patent applications. That said, we don't comment on pending patent applications; it's all interesting, but as most folks know, a patent application is very different from a product or service or device actually coming to market any time soon," she added.

The word privacy isn't used anywhere in Verizon's 14-page patent application for "Methods and Systems for Presenting an Advertisement Associated with an Ambient Action of a User." But to be fair, the Verizon inventors that wrote the patent are engineers. Their task is to innovate, and think of better ways to deliver programming and advertising to subscribers.

The idea of using infrared cameras and microphones to target advertising to viewers based on their conversations or objects in their living rooms is a bold one. It's not something I would expect Verizon or any other pay TV distributor to deploy in the next five years. But if it does pursue the targeted advertising technology, it's a safe bet that it wouldn't attempt to do so without the consent of its subscribers.--Steve