Google has acquired a patent for technology that can track what TV content people are viewing, and use that to provide relevant search results. The technology is already a part of Google Now, and is just one of several signals that Google relies on to determine what people are interested in.
Bill Slawski, an SEO guru, posted about Google’s patent acquisition on his blog, and explained how the patent works. It is apparently a system for enhancing user search results by identifying the television program that is being viewed “in proximity to an electronic device”.
This means that if Google is able to identify what you are watching on TV then, when you search for something on your phone or tablet, it could alter the search results based on the content of the show you are watching. For example, if you’re watching a show about motor bikes and then search for bikes, Google could prioritise the kinds of bike that appeared on the TV show.
The Google Now intelligent personal assistant already offers reminders and information based on TV shows that it knows you are watching, and aims to offer “information before you ask for it”. For the TV Rank system to be effective, you would need to give Google Now permission to listen to what is going on around you, so that it can identify TV shows. However, if you are willing to give that permission then you can try out a basic form of TV Rank right now.
It’s important to note, however, that just because Google holds a patent for this technology, it does not mean that it will automatically use it in search rankings. With further testing it could decide that the feature is not as useful or practical as it first seems, however, it is worth tracking for the foreseeable future.
Privacy campaigners are likely to be concerned by the way that the system must listen to the content that is being consumed, in order to recognize that it is a TV show and then identify which show it is. Given the concerns that Facebook may want to do something similar with its “now listening” and “now watching” features, it is unlikely that a similar system from Google would get a positive response. However, if it is made optional and easy to disable then resistance may be low.