Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Comcast has denied that it is
developing camera devices built in to cable boxes that monitor
consumers as they enter the room, despite the fact that
Vice-President Gerard Kunkel admitted to a journalist that such a
move would represent a "holy grail," and rival companies
like TiVo and Microsoft have already filed patents for similar
A firestorm of
controversy erupted last week after industry website newteevee.com
carried an article by Chris Albrecht which revealed that Comcast
was, "experimenting with different camera technologies built
into devices so it can know who’s in your living room".
How did Albrecht
know? Because Comcast’s senior VP of user experience Gerard Kunkel
told him during the Digital Living Room conference held in San
seen Enemy of the State too many times, or perhaps I’m just naive
about the depths to which Comcast currently tracks my every
move," wrote Albrecht.
The idea being that
if you turn on your cable box, it recognizes you and pulls up shows
already in your profile or makes recommendations. If parents are
watching TV with their children, for example, parental controls
could appear to block certain content from appearing on the screen.
Kunkel also said this type of monitoring is the “holy grail”
because it could help serve up specifically tailored ads.
to the article in droves and most were shocked by the proposals.
that cameras in the living room would imposed on us by a fascist
government. Fascism these days is dominated by corporate power
guised under a mantle of legitimacy. These systems of control have
been primarily put in place by willful consumption of consumer
goods," wrote one.
"This is not cool, this is not
fun, this is not exciting. This is invasive. They’ve been talking
about this technology since the inception of cable modems, and
there’s a certain amount of tracking in place already. Cameras?
Too much," stated another.
responded to the article by claiming the device was, "in no
way designed to – or capable of – monitoring your living room.
These technologies are designed to allow simple navigation on a
television set just as the Wii remote uses a camera to manage its
much heralded gesture-based interactivity."
shot back by pointing out that Kunkel told him the device was
explicitly being designed so as to monitor who was entering the
granted me our initial video interview, you brought up the topic of Comcast
knowing who was in the living room in a conversation between
you, myself and another conference attendee," writes Albrecht.
"I actually left and came back
to follow up on this point while you were talking with that same
attendee. At this point, you were aware that I was a reporter and I
took handwritten notes in front of you as we talked to make sure I
had an accurate accounting of what you were saying," he added.
Tracking and databasing of
consumer’s TV viewing habits is nothing new - for years cable box
companies like TiVo have monitored behavior down to the level of
what parts of shows viewers rewind or fast forward -
an example being Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction during
the 2003 Super Bowl half-time show.
Indeed, the monitoring of viewers for
the purposes of Minority Report style commercial assaults and viewer
customization has been in the works since at least early 2005.
November 2005, TiVo applied for a patent allowing customization
of TV remotes and viewing preferences via an RFID chip the consumer
would attach to his or her body - which is just one step away from
an embedded microchip in the body.
Microsoft has also applied for a
patent that would utilize, "a camera sitting on top of a
television set to detect the presence of viewers and identifying
them using facial-recognition software — or perhaps a fingerprint
scanner in a remote control," according
to a report from Multichannel News.
corporations and eventually the government is planning to use
microphones in the computers of an estimated 150 million-plus
Internet active Americans to spy on their lifestyle choices and
build psychological profiles which will be used for surveillance,
invasive advertising and data mining.
In 2006, Google
announced that they were developing a plan to use in-built
microphones to listen in on user’s background noise, be it
television, music or radio - and then direct advertising at them
based on their preferences.
"The idea is to use the existing
PC microphone to listen to whatever is heard in the background, be
it music, your phone going off or the TV turned down. The PC then
identifies it, using fingerprinting, and then shows you relevant
content, whether that’s adverts or search results, or a chat room
on the subject," reported
Last year the New
York Times reported on a venture by Pudding Media, a new company
founded by two former Israeli intelligence officers, to offer its
customers free Internet phone service in return for their consent to
have their conversations monitored for keywords upon which targeted
advertising is directed.
"A conversation about movies,
for example, will elicit movie reviews and ads for new films that
the caller will see during the conversation. Pudding Media is
working on a way to e-mail the ads and other content to the person
on the other end of the call, or to show it on that person’s
cellphone screen," according to the report.
If you think telesales calls and
pop-ups ads are annoying, the new wave of invasive advertising will
not only saturate the senses with 24/7 vapid consumerism, but it
will signal the death knell for the assumption that privacy is a
human right not to be infringed upon by corporations or the state.
Orwell’s telescreens and Minority
Report style assaults on our senses may not be born out of
government coercion, but as a result of consumers willfully
enslaving themselves into this matrix - all for the convenience of
enhancing their consumption of programming via the one-eyed
brainwashing monster in the corner of the room.