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In Soviet US, Comcast Watches YOU 404

Posted by kdawson
from the you-have-none-get-over-it dept.
cayenne8 sends us to Newteevee.com for a blog posting reporting from the Digital Living Room conference earlier this week. Gerard Kunkel, Comcast's senior VP of user experience, stated that the cable company is experimenting with different camera technologies built into its devices so it can know who's in your living room. Cameras in the set-top boxes, while apparently not using facial recognition software, can still somehow figure out who is in the room, and customize user preferences for cable (favorite channels, etc.). While this sounds 'handy,' it also sounds a bit like the TV sets in 1984. I am sure, of course, that Comcast wouldn't tap into this for any reason, nor let the authorities tap into this to watch inside your home in real time without a warrant or anything."
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In Soviet US, Comcast Watches YOU

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  • Ah well ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster (602015) on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:10PM (#22820344)
    This is one privacy issue that a little electrical tape can cure easily.
  • 1984 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mikeabbott420 (744514) on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:13PM (#22820400) Journal
    A 'bit' like 1984? Who in the hell would go for this? Americans seem to have managed to convince their politicians and corporations that they have no interest in freedom at all.
  • Re:Nope. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by alexbartok (764756) <{alex} {at} {moocows.org}> on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:14PM (#22820414)
    That depends on the marketing strategy. If it's a `cool new device for interacting with your friends`, I'm sure they'll get not so tech-savy or privacy-savy people to buy it.
  • 1984 (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:15PM (#22820430)

    While this sounds 'handy,' it also sounds a bit like the TV sets in 1984.

    Apart from the fact that allowing them into your house is entirely voluntary and not mandated by law. You know, the important bit.

    I'm sick of people comparing everything to 1984. It's like they read one book in school and anything that has privacy implications is immediately associated with it because it makes them feel smart.

    Look, I think this is a stupid idea and there's no way I'd let one into my house, but it's not like 1984. Hardly anything compared to it actually is.

  • by VampireByte (447578) on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:21PM (#22820520) Homepage
    There will be a "think of the children" campaign. People will protest children seeing adult material and someone will argue that "the technology already exists" to solve this problem. These cameras will detect that children are in the room and block inappropriate material. A law will be passed requiring the camera-in-box technology. There you go... it's in people's homes.
  • Re:Nope. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Otter (3800) on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:21PM (#22820532) Journal
    Exactly. Who would possibly want this -- do I want the channel changing when my wife walks in the room and in front of the couch?

    If they simply must market such a technology, at least put a biometric device on the remote. That would have to work better than some mysterious body shape recognition, give them the same marketing information and I can still watch Sanford and Son reruns in my underwear.

  • Re:Ah well ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by darjen (879890) on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:23PM (#22820568)
    My fix is already in place: a cheapo Radio Shack HDTV antenna.
  • Re:Ah well ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Naughty Bob (1004174) on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:24PM (#22820576)

    This is one privacy issue that a little electrical tape can cure easily.
    Using the electrical tape will be classed as theft, as you are preventing the business from optimizing, and thus maximizing the revenue derived from, the advertising. Puts me, albeit tenuously, in mind of a quote I saw recently-

    In the 1980s capitalism triumphed over communism. In the 1990s it triumphed over democracy.
  • Re:1984 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by George Beech (870844) on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:25PM (#22820612)
    Politicians and corporations seem to have managed to convince Americans that they have no interest in freedom at all

    fixed it for ya

  • Re:Why the frag (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Numbah One (821914) on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:28PM (#22820644)
    I'm sure Comcast will say they are going to sell some type of video phone service or something similar to justify putting the camera in the box. If asked why all boxes have a camera rather than some with and some without, Comcast could come back with some excuse indicating that it is cheaper for them to stock a single type of box rather than multiple types that could result in shortages and poor customer service.
  • Re:Ah well ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MasaMuneCyrus (779918) on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:31PM (#22820676)
    I predict if this comes to pass, child pornography will be brought up in defensed of warrantlessly spying on people using this technology.
  • Already there? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by symbolset (646467) on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:32PM (#22820698) Homepage Journal

    What makes you think the camera is not already there? Have you disassembled your cable box?

    Food for thought. Your cable box could have a camera already. If you have cable internet you know it has enough bandwidth for monitoring you.

  • by Zymergy (803632) * on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:32PM (#22820700)
    Well.... that is until someone's underage teenage son and his underage girlfriend decide to shed all their clothes and have brazen sex in front of the cable box... The legal details of that scenario would be very interesting...
    -What does legally happen when some adult's Comacast 1984-style bidirectional TV box "inadvertently" observes illegal underage nudity and sex. I am sure if this data was in any way streamed over their network there would be numerous state and federal laws violated (or if it were retained in any way), not to mention grounds for a very hefty lawsuit.
    It would make for some interesting legal reading in any case.
  • by twitter (104583) * on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:36PM (#22820748) Homepage Journal

    I put a picture of Mickey Mouse in front of mine. They got me for copyright and trademark violations too. How did they know?

    TV is not worth this. Thanks to MythTV, I considered paying for cable TV again. There is no way in hell I'd sit a camera in my living room for it. What complete morons.

  • Re:Ah well ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:38PM (#22820768) Journal
    blockquote>If you cover up the lens, the cable box goes "Your papers, please." Then you'll have to type your SSN or passport number in with the remote before you can watch TV. then you know what I do? I unplug the fscker, cancel my service [not that I'd deal with comcast in the first place] and go post on slashdot or something. it really isn't that important to watch TV, so why give them any power over you? I mean really why do people put up with this? It's almost as if people are too lazy to defend their privacy and too eager to whine about their problems or something.
  • by aurispector (530273) on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:40PM (#22820816)
    Heh. It's hard to believe someone thought this was a good idea. After the recent warrentless wiretap fiasco, it's brutally obvious that this would be abused by some government agency somewhere. Fascists exist in every society.
  • by cptdondo (59460) on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:44PM (#22820856) Journal
    Heck, wan't there a proposal in the VHS era that would limit the number of people in a room for tape watching? Something like you could only have 8 people at a time, otherwise you would have to pay additonal royalties?

    I cna see it now. Every time someone walks into the room they have to swipe their credit card in the STB or the TV will turn off.

    This sounds like a DRM dream. The sad thing is that many people will think this is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and will welcome this "customized user experience".

    Arghhh.....
  • Unfortunately (Score:3, Insightful)

    by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:47PM (#22820920)
    Unfortunately, by sticking electrical tape on the camera, you have invalidated your warranty (by their own definition) and they cannot be held responsible if, say, the device becomes permanently nonfunctional when it notices the channels being changed while the camera detects no motion or light.

    Them's the breaks!
  • Re:1984 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by coaxial (28297) on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:57PM (#22821082) Homepage

    A 'bit' like 1984?
    Actually this more reminds of Max Headroom.

    Who in the hell would go for this?
    The vast majority of people.

    Americans seem to have managed to convince their politicians and corporations that they have no interest in freedom at all
    Because a majority Americans apparently don't.

    Oh and this is perfectly okay since it's a corporation and not a government because companies are beholden to a small number of hyper wealthy share holders as opposed to the populous. And companies never do anything wrong! Why would they? I mean look at the housing market. Rolling along! Look at the energy markets where it was finally let loose of the yoke of government regulation! Enron! Worldcom! Bear Stearns! These are pillars of industry. Truly, we should simply have more faith in the wisdom of our betters.
  • Re:1984 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by psydeshow (154300) on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:07PM (#22821226) Homepage
    FREE CABLE* if you watch more than 30 hours of the History Channel each month.

    *Use of set-top attention monitor required.

    If allowing the camera into your home could save you $90 per month, you might consider it. Especially if you "have nothing to hide".
  • Re:Ah well ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pla (258480) on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:10PM (#22821262) Journal
    they can't make that illegal because they've already told to lay in plenty of duct tape in case of a chemical attack.

    "Make the most of Indian hemp seed and sow it everywhere!" - George Washington
  • Re:Ah well ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Original Replica (908688) on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:15PM (#22821342) Journal
    I mean really why do people put up with this? It's almost as if people are too lazy to defend their privacy and too eager to whine about their problems or something.

    In a way, whining about this in a widely read forum like Slashdot, is defending our privacy. Public awareness is the first step towards stopping things like this. Now the American public has an almost zero attention span, so awareness has to be loud and alarmist to even register on the social consciousness. To add to that problem, the evening news is alarmist about everything because it gains ratings, but further buries any real problems from getting the attention they need in order to be resolved.
  • by Genus Marmota (59217) on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:17PM (#22821362)

    The obvious application of this is a pricing model that includes the number of viewers in the room. This has been an issue since the early VCR days. Many of the big players (e.g. Disney) were violently opposed to the VCR at first for just this reason, that they could no longer charge based on the number of viewers. I'd be suprised if that idea didn't get floated soon after the debut of the camera, maybe in connection with some huge event.

    Improved preferences/customization seems a small payout for such a large investment. They already have the 'thumbclick' data, which is far easier to run throgh the (Bayesian) software. I expect it's already got a model for how many regular users there are. From the perspective of preferences or targeted ads, who's holding the remote is more important than who's in the room.

  • Re:Ah well ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sm62704 (957197) on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:31PM (#22821550) Journal
    If you cover up the lens, the cable box goes "Your papers, please." Then you'll have to type your SSN or passport number in with the remote before you can watch TV.

    Shamelessle and blatantly stolen from A Child's Garden of Grass: A Pre-Legalization Comedy (1971)

    "Your paperss, pleass!"
    "Uh, but I only got a pipe, man."
    "Zen you'll haff to come vith ME!"

    But seriously (boo! he's serious!), is there ANY evil the corporations won't stoop to? Time to take all those lame stale lawyer jokes and rework them to Capitalist jokes. Even you athiests have to agree with what the bible says about the love of money.
  • Re:1984 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by smolloy (1250188) on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:38PM (#22821644)
    Sure, lots of stuff on /. that is compared to 1984 isn't like the book at all, but I thought, for once, that people were using the comparison correctly. As you said, it's entirely voluntary, but the thing that most people here (including me) are worrying about is that it may not continue to be voluntary -- especially once law enforcement realise how stunningly useful it could be.

    Sooner or later someone will apply "think of the children" logic, and we'll all have one of these in our living rooms.

  • Re:Ah well ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chandon Seldon (43083) on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:47PM (#22821756) Homepage

    I mean really why do people put up with this? It's almost as if people are too lazy to defend their privacy and too eager to whine about their problems or something.

    There are a whole group of people who "defend their privacy" in cases like this simply by avoiding such products and services. These people have no social impact *at all*, because they don't say anything - which means everyone else thinks that "no one cares".

    What that means is simple: Yes, you should actively defend your privacy by avoiding intrusive services. But you also need to whine about it on the internet to let others know that someone cares.

  • Re:Ah well ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ehrichweiss (706417) on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:48PM (#22821762)
    Yeah, it's called Humboldt County marijuana...;)
  • by dogganos (901230) <dogganos@gmail.com> on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:55PM (#22821822)
    did not forsaw all of this coming, but instead gave the bad guys the ideas...
  • Re:Ah well ... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by StJohnsWort (260566) on Friday March 21, 2008 @02:11PM (#22821996) Homepage
    "No, they can't make that illegal because they've already told to lay in plenty of duct tape in case of a chemical attack."

    Then when you use it like that, they will start coming out with labels on duct tape saying its a federal offense to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.
  • Re:Ah well ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Original Replica (908688) on Friday March 21, 2008 @02:16PM (#22822042) Journal
    First, no it isn't. It's whining.

    OK, how would you suggest raising public awareness about this? I only heard about it because it was posted here in Slashdot.

    Slashdot isn't really that big, and the audience is very self-selecting for certain points of view.

    Says user number 1,243,248. If Slashdot were a city that population would make it the ninth largest city in the US, between San Diego and Dallas. Yes audience is self selecting, this is a site mostly made of nerds with a libertarian bent. There is, at least, an effort to stay informed and back up statements with facts.
  • by sYkSh0n3 (722238) on Friday March 21, 2008 @02:33PM (#22822220) Journal
    I use to build bombs on the coffee table, except that damn wobbly leg. Table shifted, things rolled, my house became short one living room. :(

    But really, what kind of sane person would put a camera they didn't have control of in their living room? I don't even like having my webcam pointed at me when i'm not using it.

    What really annoys me about this, is I can see people getting it and BEING EXCITED that it can see them in front of the tv and pick out what they want. It goes back to that "i have nothing to hide, so why should I care" philosophy. I have nothing to hide either, but I sure as hell care.

  • Re:Ah well ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Omestes (471991) <{omestes} {at} {gmail.com}> on Friday March 21, 2008 @03:27PM (#22822758) Homepage Journal
    Face it, Slashdot is a SMALL community.

    Not to commit /. boosterism, but what, then, is a large community? A million people is a lot of people, a whole lot of people. Before the internet got large (since what, 95?) I doubt we ever would have considered >1m to be small.

    Besides it isn't about /. being an action network, its about, to use distasteful political speak, conscious raising. If you have a million or so concerned individuals, these individuals have friends, participate in other forums, etc... thus a local fervor on /. can spread wildly to other areas, since 1m people is pretty good for critical momentum. What local group in meatspace do you belong where you have the potential to be heard by this number of people, especially in a conversational format? Look at the Digg brouhaha last May 1, for an example. Also with such a large userbase, and such a huge amount of content, /. is over represented on places like Google (where we are often #1 in the news section lately), which do, potentially, have a wider reach.

    I also wouldn't say that we're that limited in the ideologies of the user-base. I'd say we skew towards mid-high income brackets, and towards the more libertarian techies, but thats not to say that they are a large majority. Look how many left-right, socialism-libertarianism debates plague YRO daily. We even have a share of Christian fundies resident. And while American's are the majority, we definitely have a LARGE share of folk from other countries/cultures to balance things out.

    We represent a large array of international basement dwellers, in other words.
  • Re:Ah well ... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 21, 2008 @03:34PM (#22822826)
    They will probably also broadcast fake child pornography (e.g. only an announcement) and throw everyone who dared staying in front of their TV set into jail.
  • by aurispector (530273) on Friday March 21, 2008 @06:41PM (#22824696)
    The defining characteristic of fascism is subordination of the individual to the state. Unfortunately the term gets diluted when it gets thrown around so often. Government abuse of police powers without oversight certainly seems to fit this definition. There is going to be lots of disagreement over exactly where the line between the individual and the state should be drawn, but certainly it's easy to see when a given policy or practice so clearly favors state control.

    In any country you are going to find people who favor government control to an extreme degree. Regardless of how you choose to label them, they're still fascists to varying degrees. Given the history and values upon which the United States was founded, it's ironic in the extreme that the word "freedom" gets bandied about so often by the very people enabling the erosion of individual liberties.

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