This article has been updated to include additional information and clarification.
If you're watching TV on your mobile device this fall, Nielsen will likely be keeping track. The social networking service has teamed up with Nielsen to keep better track of who's watching what shows on their cell phones and tablets.
The LA Times says this Facebook-Nielsen partnership is part of the effort "to bring the art of audience measurement into the digital age." Essentially, Facebook will scan its databases and then send certain data about your TV show mobile phone and/or tablet viewing habits off to Nielsen. From the sound of it, that viewer data will -- for now -- be limited to age and gender, which will allow Nielsen to tally who's watching what shows on their devices by that very basic criteria.
LA Times doesn't get into specifics on how Facebook would have access to your viewing data*. Is it safe to assume that the cell phone or tablet user would have to connect the TV-show-viewing app with their Facebook account in order for Facebook to have access to that information? That would at least give Facebook users the option of whether or not they want to invite Facebook to snoop around their viewing habits.
*Update/Correction - The Times article does note that "when tablet users prepare to watch TV shows on a device by downloading an app that contains an embedded Nielsen "software meter," they would be notified that their views would be counted — unless they want to opt out." - So it does look like there is the option to opt out of this research.
As for Nielsen, they're looking to evolve how they measure people's viewing habits, and in that respect, this may be a big step forward to them in getting more accurate information on what people are watching, when taking into account the increasing number of people who watch TV on their phones and tablets.
In terms of privacy issues, it's understandable that some would feel wary of this situation, however from what Nielsen Executive Vice President Cheryl Idell says, the data-collecting process is "all anonymous and privacy-protected." A numeric code is assigned to each TV show and Facebook won't know what show the code stands for when they send it to Nielsen. Nielsen will decipher the code on their end. Nielsen won't, however, know the identities of the Facebook users, just the ages and genders. So theoretically, neither side of this partnership will have access to all of the information being collected.
The point of this research, from Nielsen's perspective anyway, is to help marketers have more accurate information so that they can make more efficient and better-targeted advertisements.
On one hand, as a TV viewer and a consumer, I don't mind my preferences counting toward these kinds of studies the same as I'm not opposed to participating in Nielsen's survey. Consider how Nielsen's ratings system affects advertisements and the fate of our favorite -- in some cases, underappreciated -- TV shows. The more information Nielsen has, the better they can keep track of how popular these shows really are.
With that said, if this is a situation of Facebook nosing its way into people's cell phone and tablet usage without being "connected" to the apps that provide this data, I can understand why people would have an issue with this -- See update below -- The act of connecting an app to Facebook at least gives the user the choice as to whether or not they want to invite Facebook into their app-using habitsI guess the alternative would be to remove Facebook from your tablet/phone.
Update for Clarification - Nielsen tells us that Facebook is not technically collecting the information, Nielsen is. Facebook is providing them with viewers' age and gender.
As it was explained to us, Nielsen has developed a meter that's being integrated in browser-based video players and branded apps. As mentioned in the update above, users have the choice to opt out of that when they install the app. The meter collects the TV show information, signals Nielsen, which in turn reaches out to Facebook to collect the age/gender information, if it's available. If there's a Facebook cookie, the age/gender info is attached to the program info and that goes to Nielsen. If there's no Facebook cookie, no information is transmitted.