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In Soviet US, Comcast watches YOU

cayenne8 (626475) writes | more than 6 years ago

Television 4

cayenne8 (626475) writes "Ok, this is interesting. At the Digital Living Room conference recently, Gerard Kunkel, Comcast's senior VP of user experience stated that the cable company is experimenting with different camera technologies built into devices so it can know who's in your living room — According to this article from They're experimenting with cameras on the settop boxes that 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, where Big Brother watches you, as you watch tv. 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.

I don't think even my tinfoil hat would help with this..."

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Don't we already have that? (1)

Lucas123 (935744) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812150)

It's called reality television and networks rake in millions of dollars worth of commercial advertising through it.

Clarification on post (1)

Jenni Moyer (1260258) | more than 6 years ago | (#22823356)

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. Jenni Moyer Comcast

Just wait for the backlash ... (1)

ErkDemon (1202789) | more than 6 years ago | (#22841332)

So what about Kunkel's alleged comments about the "holy grail" of targeted advertising?

Consumers are understandably paranoid about a system that monitors what's happening in a room. And the really intrusive nightmare would be targeted ads, which is exactly what was brought up as a possible application. Shifting the balance of power away from the viewer and towards the advertiser ... letting the set evaluate what products and services a viewer is most likely to be vulnerable to from watching their viewing habits and behaviour ... viewers are quite entitled to say, to hell with that.

Any CEO who seriously thinks that this is a great idea is one press release away from dropping their company into a massive PR disaster. Financially it may appear to make sense to identify vulnerable people and start swamping them with ads for religion or gambling or alcohol, but it's not socially responsible. TV advertising is only tolerated by society to the current extent because of its perceived inefficiency, people see a stream of ads that don't have any chance of selling them anything, and they feel empowered. They feel that they are still in control. But individual targetting changes that. With individually-targetted TV ads, as soon as someone reckons that a vulnerable relative has been conned by these ads into buying a load of useless tat or has been encouraged to become an alcoholic or has lost all their money through online gambling or given it all to some church ... if they see that their relative has been targetted with ads for these things, they are going to take it very personally. You are going to see people turning up at at your Head Office wanting to punch your CEO's lights out for being a manipulative b*****d salesman preying on the vulnerable. You're going to be regarded in the same light as drug dealers.

Suppose that someone's depressed, and the system identifies this and starts serving up adverts that do well with depressed people, and that person sees the selection of ads, takes it personally, gets even more depressed, and then tops themselves ... their relatives could claim that the system identified that person's traits and picked on them, and therefore helped encourage their depression and eventual death. That sort of case wouldn't be likely to hold up with conventional advertising, but when the advertising is individually targetted, lawyers can argue that the system is designed to be exploitative of individuals, and that the advertiser therefore has a far higher responsibility than with conventional adverts. The programming vendor deliberately decides to aim this selection of ads at a judged category of person, based on an assessment of the viewer. They could no longer claim that any bad effects weren't their fault because they couldn't be expected to know the viewer's circumstances -- the response would be that if they couldn't tell how an individual viewer was going to react, then they really shouldn't have been trying to tailor the ads individually to that person in the first place.

If you're elderly, it may well be that you are much more likely to be in the market for incontinence pads and stairlifts or funeral services, and some selected viewers might find those ads useful ... but others may feel angry or dejected that some computer has decided that the appropriate ads for them should revolve around infirmity, absent relatives and impending death, and then insist on continually reminding them of it. Knowing that these ads have been selected especially for you would be depressing. They might want to see a few exciting ads for sports cars every now and then. Those depressed and insulted and upset people might not show up on sales statistics, but they're going to be part of the social cost of the system. The long-term effects of being targetted with ads that you find depressing (say, being constantly shown constant ads for funeral plans, year after year, because you are hobbling about in front of the set with a debilitating disease) also might not turn up in focus group reports, but they still have to be considered.

Even if the system doubles advertising efficiency, and the complaints only come from a comparatively small percentage of test viewers, those few percent are liable to kick up such a fuss that the company's name is likely to become dirt very quickly. Even if your intentions are good, you're likely to quickly become regarded as the ultimate example of and Evil Manipulative Corporation, and the rest of the advertising industry is liable to get caught in the backlash.

... like the gadget in the "Cost of Living" film (1)

ErkDemon (1202789) | more than 6 years ago | (#22841428)

A short indie film about a digibox system that tracks viewers and selects its advertising accordingly: []

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