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Friday, March 21, 2008

On Privacy

Comcast is an ISP and cable service provider in the US. It is experimenting with a new technology to recognize the person in the living room, and schedule programs and/or advertisements accordingly. They will install some sort of camera on the set top box which will recognize the person from body features (Comcast claims they will not have face recognition).

Bruce Schneier is a security expert. He says one needs a different mindset to be security-conscious. He contends it is innate, and cannot really be taught, although some effort is on at the University of Washington.

Do I need to spell out what I fear? Privacy, fortunately, doesn't require as much of an innate talent as security, but it does require a lot of common sense. Given Comcast's recent dealings vis a vis Bit torrents, I am afraid I'll have to say "No, thanks" when they come to me with that wonderful feature of customized TV programs, and of course, customized advertisements. It's not because I have anything to fear, but the mind boggles at the kind of misuse that kind of technology can be put to. Imagine someone viewing what I am doing in the privacy of my living room in real-time. In no time, I will be expected to behave in whatever manner is deemed "acceptable" at the time. But wait, that's not the worse part. Who's stopping anyone in law enforcement from hijacking the camera feed? Umm, did you say they need a court warrant, and if one is issued, there is sufficient evidence anyway? Right.

Why don't we worry enough about our privacy? Is there any sociologist explaining the phenomenon? The way things have been going, if Comcast does come up with the camera plan, I am afraid a majority of us will just welcome it.

Interesting times are ahead, my friends.

[Links via Slashdot.]


ComcastCares said...

The article "Comcast Cameras to Start Watching You" portrayed some assumptions that require correction and clarification. I want to be clear that in no way are we exploring any camera devices that would monitor customer behavior.

To gather information for this article, the blogger picked up on a conversation between Gerard Kunkel and another person at a recent conference. They were discussing the various input devices offered by a variety of vendors that Comcast is reviewing.

The camera-based gesture recognition device is 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.

We are constantly exploring new technologies that better serve our customers. The goal is simple - a better user experience that allows the consumer to get ever increasing value out of their Comcast products.

As with any new technology, we carefully consider the consumer benefits. In fact, we do an enormous amount of consumer testing in advance of making a product decision such as this. We're confident that a new technology like gesture-based navigation will be fully explored with consumers to understand the product's feature benefits - and of course, the value to the consumer.

Frank Eliason
Comcast Executive Offices

Puranjoy said...

Well well, who would have thought! Thanks for the clarification, and if that indeed is true, more power to you.

felicity said...

After reading the article, perhaps it is enough to suffice that Technology is a two edged sword.