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What’s in the BBC Box? Nothing that anyone will ever want


The BBC does have some weird ideas. None much weirder than its latest experiment, the BBC Box, a device that sits in your home hoovering up all your personal data.

The BBC Box is basically a Raspberry Pi in an odd enclosure that looks like a prop from the Doctor Who set.

The idea behind the device is that it connects to your smartphone, tablets and other computers, sucking up all the personal data that would normally be transmitted to app developers, who could sell it on to Christ knows who.

Data such as your television viewing habits, social media output and music preferences are stored on the BBC Box and can only be accessed by third parties with your permission. So, if say, Auntie wanted to recommend television shows for you to watch on iPlayer, it would seek permission to access the data on your box. Even then, the profile of you created on the BBC Box is anonymised, so (in theory) the data you choose to share cannot be linked back to you personally.

What’s wrong with the BBC Box?

The BBC Box is currently an experiment being trialled with 25 of the corporation’s own staff, and frankly I expect that’s the biggest user base it’s ever likely to have.

Why? Because people don’t care enough about their personal data to go to the bother – and potential expense – of sticking another bizarre-looking device in their house just to keep their YouTube viewing habits and such like from getting into the grubby hands of advertisers.

What’s more, the benefits of using the BBC Box are – at best – slight. Look at the sample applications the BBC highlights on its blog announcing the BBC Box. Aside from the recommended programmes you can already get from iPlayer, there’s an app that delivers “on-demand and tailored content and information about places you might want to visit in the world”. A poor man’s TripAdvisor.

The BBC concedes these initial apps are about as thrilling as Songs of Praise, describing them as “modest first steps”, before going on to describe other use cases for the BBC Box:

For example, what about health and fitness data? Or a BBC Box-based video and text messenger for parents and their children? Or real-time quizzes and polls that support new types of public participation with BBC programming? Perhaps even the ability to share some of your data with charities that you support to help them in their work?

Be still my beating heart.

The BBC Box feels like a sociology student’s dissertation project, the kind of invention that wouldn’t even make the shortlist for Dragon’s Den. The BBC asks:

Could new public services based on data portability, reflection, active mediation of the open Internet, and secure, decentralised communication persuade the public that it’s worth investing time into an alternative future which uses data, ones which provide greater visibility and control over data along with greater value?

If this is the best you’ve got, the answer’s no.

NOW READ THIS: The BBC asked for loads of your Facebook data – what did it do with it?

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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