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TiVo's watching you. But who's watching TiVo?

CNET News.com's Charles Cooper wants to know: If the Super Bowl snooping didn't constitute an egregious example of techno-trespassing, then what does?

Whaddaya know? Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" turned out to be the most popular TiVo moment during last month's Super Bowl game.

We now know this, because TiVo was watching many of you, while you were watching TiVo.

While everybody from Michael Powell to the Wild Man of Borneo weighed in on the debate over the propriety of Jackson's titillating moment on stage, some eager beaver at TiVo spotted an opportunity for free and easy publicity. But after publishing that information, TiVo was instead forced into damage control, as the Jackson data disclosure invited a round of knee-jerk breast-beating.

Handed a golden opportunity to harrumph about the creeping digital encroachment in our lives, the digerati's paragons of virtue were upset that a line was being crossed: If TiVo's snooping did not constitute an egregiously unacceptable example of technology trespassing, then what did?

Holy Peeping Tom, Batman. Was it that Orwellian? Maybe I need to become more of a fussbudget, but the fact is that TiVo-philes knew--or should have known--what they were getting into when they first unwrapped their digital video recorders. The user agreement that comes with the product discloses the company's data-gathering practices.

There's a more pressing question deserving of examination. TiVo's big eye in the sky lets the company track what's been watched as well as the number of times particular moments get replayed.

TiVo-philes knew--or should have known--what they were getting into when they first unwrapped their digital video recorders.
Even though TiVo says it strips out any information that might otherwise get traced back to an individual viewer, that's still a fine line to straddle. The company swears that no demographic information ever gets relayed, but we're nonetheless left hoping that the folks who make that pledge live up to their word.

This story is only in its beginning chapters. DVRs are becoming mainstream, and both cable and satellite TV companies are promoting the systems to their subscribers. Indeed, U.S. consumers have so far bought more than 3 million.

The digital web that's growing up around us constitutes a lot more than TiVo. Cable operators can track TV-viewing habits, just as Internet service providers can track what you do online (with or without packet sniffers). Take a moment to check, and you'll find that your PC has more cookies than the Girl Scouts have. Truth be told, Web sites such as CNET News.com has a pretty accurate idea which articles you choose to read--but of course, we're as pure as the driven snow.

I'd like my privacy back, but that's probably a pipedream. If it's digital, someone is probably watching--if not already making a database entry. Where all this is headed is anyone's guess, but you can glimpse the lengthening shadow of Big Brother in the foreground.