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[ale] Wandering OT: Re: Car PC's and internet radio?

OK, this leads me to ask something I've been wondering about.

I don't know how many channels one can select from with XM/Sirius
(hereafter, simply XM), but I understand that it's A Lot (i.e., more
than 100).  My question is, does the XM receiver actually receive all of
the data stream from all of the channels at once and select from among
them (which is what in effect occurs with terrestrial radio), or is
something transmitted from the receiver upstream when the XM radio is
turned on or when a channel is selected?

If the latter is in fact the case, I find the notion chilling due to the
social engineering implications of a mass medium in which the medium
knows exactly what each and every recipient is receiving, present and

It is my understanding that each XM receiver must have an associated
subscription, and I surmise that each subscription has an associated
receiver owner identification.  If "the system" is told by each receiver
what channel to receive, then every subscriber would have an
ever-lengthening dataset showing what program, song, announcement - any
program material at all - was output by the receiver(s) covered by their

I can already imagine people who haven't sufficiently assembled two and
two saying, "I don't care if 'they' [single quotes mine] know what I'm
listening to."


Let me run some scenarios by you, just based on the premise that "they"
have a dataset of your XM radio channel selections and yours alone.

    * Your employer pays the XM provider to obtain a list of channels
      you listen to and when you listen to them.  This information is
      used against you at performance review time to suggest that you're
      listening to the radio when you should be working. 
    * You have a car accident involving another party and you are either
      sued by or suing the other party.  The other party's attorneys
      purchase your XM radio data and testify in court that you changed
      channels on your radio five times in the thirty seconds before the
      accident, implying to the jury that you were excessively
      distracted while driving. 
    * A highly liberal employer in an "At-Will" state decides you listen
      to a little too much Sean Hannity for their taste.  Your "position
      is eliminated."

Include the notion of *everyone's* channel data being recorded for all
time and you can begin to see the amount of power that an XM provider
can potentially wield - the closest thing you can reasonably imagine to
a remotely-controlled populace existing in the world of today. 

It occurs to me that even if XM radio is strictly one-way, the nature of
the system is such that the provider can make program material
selectable on a per-radio basis. 

Let me give a simplified illustration.  Suppose that when you apply for
a subscription, you're asked to supply your eye color - green, brown, or
blue - and you do so truthfully.  Then, every day at exactly noon, all
of the channels sends out three voice announcements at the same time. 
Based on the subscription data and the associated receiver
identification, all of the green-eyed subscribers hear the noon
announcement say "Your eyes are green" - and likewise for all of the
blue-eyed and brown-eyed subscribers.  All of the subscribers note the
seeming omniscience of the XM system, but they know that "seeming" is
all it is because they realize that they were asked their eye color when
they signed up for XM service. 

But, in my simplified example, the per-subscriber selection is done
using information that the subscriber knowingly supplied.  If the XM
provider has taken your knowingly-supplied data and cross-referenced it
to other data that they obtain on you, the XM provider can mess with you
in all kinds of ways.  Remember Amazon's "recommendations?"  If the XM
provider knows about music purchases you've made through any number of
outlets, a music channel can select songs for you that the system thinks
you'll like, in hopes that you'll go buy them (isn't it convenient that
the song and artist is displayed for you on the receiver's panel?).  You
will have been, in effect, turned into a node in a buying cluster.

If the system *does* know your channel selections for all time, then the
data mining that becomes possible and the actions that can be taken as a
result of that mining take on a bizarre dimension.  People hearing
primarily news stories that either please or disquiet them, as a
function of whether or not the XM provider wants their subscribers to
feel pleased or disquieted at any given moment.  Different people
hearing different versions of the same politician's speech, even if the
difference is only one of inflection or tenor. 

C. 2001 and the advent of digital cable, I realized that two-way
communication between the cable box and the cable provider was a
near-certainty (in fact, a decade earlier, I remembered Cox Cable and
their set-top boxes that "phoned home" over POTS to transmit
God-knows-what back to the "mothership").  I predicted that that
capability would be used to select content on a per-subscriber basis,
and articles I read in subsequent years bore my prediction out. 

Ever since the dawn of mass media, there has been this societal
understanding that a given "media unit" - a commercial, a newspaper, a
magazine, a radio program, a magazine, etc. - was the same for all who
received it.  Our modern culture has banked on that understanding - that
if you went up to me and said, "Hey, did you see Letterman last night?"
and I answered in the affirmative, then it is implicit that you and I
both saw the same Letterman.  That concept is beginning to break down,
if only because there is such an incredible barrage of material
available on television 24/7 that the chances that you and I saw the
same show on any given night are progressively diminishing.  But the
fact of the matter is that bandwidth and storage growth, rising as they
are on near-exponential rails, is making possible a non-commonality of
experience and knowledge that one would normally associate with
pre-civilization humanity. 

Crystal-clear CD-quality sound?  No commercials?  All the Yiddish polka
I could ever want?  Gotta love that!

Christopher Fowler wrote:
> I guess I'm hanging around with some really cheap people on this list.
> Or I may be too rich.  I do not think that $10+/mon for SAT radio is a
> bad deal.  IMO it is a great deal.  I get to listen to what I want.  I
> do not hear commercials.  when I do hear commercials (talk channels) it
> is not some obnoxious car sales ad screaming out the speaker.  When I
> travel the country I do not have to tune my radio every 100 miles.  The
> sound quality is decent compared to FM.