Ads On TiVo Make It Too Easy To Buy Things

I don’t mean that figuratively, as in it makes it too tempting to resist or something. I mean it literally. TiVo has long run ads with links to request more information, etc, with just one click. But now it is going one step further. One of the current ads is for Cosmopolitan magazine, and you can subscribe to the magazine with just one click. That’s it, no confirmation require. One click and you’re subscribed. At least you’re invoiced via snail mail, which can give you a chance to cancel the subscription. But it is still a pain to deal with. Dave Zatz of Zatz Not Funny posted a video of this today:

In the video he mentions how this is risky because someone could accidentally click on it. Or maybe a roommate or a visiting friend could click on it as a joke. Or someone else in the household, like a child, could click on it. The thing is, this is not hypothetical!

Last month I posted about TiVoCast content getting sponsorships, and reader Jenny left a comment on that post about this very issue.

Beware the Gold Star ads! I am still steaming about this… My son had just finished watching a recorded episode of Little House on the Prairie when a gold star advertisement for Cosmopolitan magazine appeared asking to click here to find out Men’s top 10 sexy secrets. Of course, being curious, he clicked on it and was given two options: No, I’m sexy enough, and Yes, I want to know the secrets (or something like that). He clicked Yes and a screen came up saying thank you for subscribing to the magazine!

When I called TiVo, they were kind enough to turn off the gold stars on my system, but could not do anything about the purchase. I am currently dealing with Cosmopolitan about this.

This is just going way too far. I had no idea that TiVo would abuse my credit card information in this way. Let alone the fact that my nine year old was subjected to this adult-themed advertising after a children’s show!

Now, it seems that Jenny may have been in error about the credit card issue, since Dave’s video indicates that you’re invoiced via snail mail. (Or perhaps that has changed in the past month.) But that doesn’t make this any less of an issue. As I said at the time, and have said repeatedly in the past, TiVo needs to put some kind of PIN/Password security on all such features. Period.

Anything that causes you to purchase or subscribe to any goods or services should require a PIN entry for confirmation by default. And it should be set to something by default, even 00000. Personally, I think this should also be included on anything that causes any personal information to be released to any third parties, even without a purchase. Allow owners to disable the PIN entry if they wish to do so, via the configuration menus. But then it is a personal choice to do so, and the user is given the option.

I am all for commerce in the TiVo interface. I’d love to see more of it. You know those History Channel shows with “Now you can buy the DVD of this program” ads? Give me the option to buy it right there from the TiVo UI. Commercials for products? Let me order them online right from the couch. Give the QVC addicts the ability to purchase right from the remote. Go for it, I’m game. But offer some security to the process. Personally I’m not too concerned – I’m single, I live alone, and my friends aren’t jerks who think it is funny to order things in my name. So I’d probably turn the PIN entry off. But I still think it should be there as an option because I know this is an issue for a number of people. I have many TiVo-owning friends with small children. And children love to play with remotes, etc. My mother likes to tell the story of how I managed to dial a local telephone operator when I was quite young. No big deal – except I managed to dial an operator in Hawaii, and we lived in New York. Kids push buttons. That’s some kind of law of nature. And even if they’re old enough to know what they’re doing parents might want to control what the kids, or babysitter, etc, can do from the TiVo – without resorting to KidZone.

As for the targeting, I agree with Jenny. I’m far, far from being any kind of prude, but an ad for Cosmo on Little House? Swing and a miss! The ads should probably be ‘rated’ and paired with TV shows of the same, or higher, rating. There is another discussion at TiVoCommunity about the content of TiVo’s ads. In that case one user was upset by the TiVo Central advertisement for the free Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Show download from Amazon Unbox. The objection is to TiVo advertising ‘prurient’ content. Personally I think that’s way over-stated, but to each his own. The ad itself doesn’t contain prurient content, and at least with Unbox you can’t order without the PIN. (And yes, for the record I have downloaded it. Though I only watched the first bit to see just what it was. I haven’t had time to watch the rest yet.)

TiVo needs to improve their ad targeting, but even more important is giving TiVo owners the ability to restrict the ability to order things from the TiVo interface.

About MegaZone

MegaZone is the Editor of Gizmo Lovers and the chief contributor. He's been online since 1989 and active in several generations of 'social media' - mailing lists, USENet groups, web forums, and since 2003, blogging.    MegaZone has a presence on several social platforms: Google+ / Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / LiveJournal / Web.    You can also follow Gizmo Lovers on other sites: Blog / Google+ / Facebook / Twitter.
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  • george

    I think that you are giving TiVo Corp. way too much leniency in this field. Here’s my analogy. When Dell and other PC manufacturers load up their PCs with lots of trial-ware, they are gaining additional revenue from those software manufacturers and ISPs who want your business. Dell and others are the channel for the advertising. But almost all of us really dislike that practice. We don’t want all of that extra bloat on our brand new computers that we just paid for.

    We are all paying TiVo some fairly decent cash to purchase their proprietary hardware and then add-on subscription fees. We all paid different prices for our Series 2 level machines from a few hundred down to essentially “free with subscription”. I paid a couple of hundred dollars each for two Series 2 machines.

    Its my opinion that all of that “gold star” and other advertising should absolutely be opt-in.

    Furthermore, all of the listings under “Music, Photos, and More…” should be opt-in and programmable. The stuff like Rhapsody, One Home Media, Live365, and lots of other things in this category is pure bloatware, just like in the Dell and others PC example.

    Now, I know … the TiVo homers will respond that TiVo needs to make more money and needs to have other revenue streams. You know what? TiVo already gets pretty good dough each month from me and you and every other subscriber. They need to focus on delivering value to each of us, instead of to Cosmo and SI and One True Media. If they gave me the subscription free, then I’d think differently. But its not free.

    We don’t like the bloatware from Dell and other PC manufacturers. Why is it so readily acceptable from TiVo?

    We don’t like Yahoo taking up lots of screen space for advertisements (except we generally don’t pay for Yahoo). Why is it so readily acceptable for TiVo? Do we want TiVo to be like Yahoo?

    Dear TiVo: Gold star advertisements should all be optional. The line items under “Music, Photos, and More” should be optional and programmable.

    PS: My family really does love TiVo.

  • Dan Fingerman

    Reader Jenny may be entitled to have the transaction voided under the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), which is the law in about 45 states. See e.g., California Civil Code section 1633.10(2) (

    (2) In an automated transaction involving an individual, the individual may avoid the effect of an electronic record that resulted from an error made by the individual in dealing with the electronic agent of another person if the electronic agent did not provide an opportunity for the prevention or correction of the error and, at the time the individual learns of the error, all of the following conditions are met:

    (i)The individual promptly notifies the other person of the error and that the individual did not intend to be bound by the electronic record received by the other person.

    (ii) The individual takes reasonable steps, including steps that conform to the other person’s reasonable instructions, to return to the other person or, if instructed by the other person, to destroy the consideration received, if any, as a result of the erroneous electronic record.

    (iii) The individual has not used or received any benefit or value from the consideration, if any, received from the other person.