Comcast Tests DVR That Watches You… Literally

from the some-things-don't-need-cameras dept

Broadband Reports points us to the news that Comcast has been experimenting (internally only) with putting cameras into DVRs in order to determine who and how many people are watching. Comcast lays out the reasons why this might be useful — such as recognizing if a child is watching, so that child content filters are automatically turned on, or merely recognizing certain preferences based on who’s watching. However, the creepiness factor of such an offering is quite high, and I doubt many people would be comfortable with such a camera — especially coming from a company like Comcast that’s been getting blasted for its traffic shaping efforts. Besides, it will be too tempting for marketers to avoid misusing such a technology. Nielsen, for example, has been trying to come up with all sorts of ways to figure out if people are really watching commercials or TV shows, or if they just leave the TV on and are doing something else. Think how tempting it would be to “spy” on people to get a sense of what they’re really doing. If such a system was going to work, the homeowner would need to have full control over the camera. If it acted just like a computer webcam, with the individual having full control over how it was used and how it could be accessed, then people might be more comfortable with it (plus, conceivably it could open up the ability for people to do video chat via their TVs). But if it’s sending any info back to Comast, it’s going to make people exceptionally uncomfortable.

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Companies: comcast

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Comments on “Comcast Tests DVR That Watches You… Literally”

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Anonymous Coward says:

It’s only a matter of time before the government gets backdoor access into the cameras. Then, literally, we will have 1984.

If the choice is between having the camera in my house and not having TV… well TV, it’s been fun.

Also, even if (although I don’t believe it for a second) they don’t use this to let the government watch you, they’re going to use it to charge you more money based on how many people are watching something at your house.

Hey, does that PPV event normally cost $49.95? Well, you’ve got 15 people at your house. Looks like it’s going to cost you $749.25 now, assho – I mean, valued customer!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

damn for real.. but what if they see some neked dude? plus there is an easy fix for it; black tape over the lens.

Anyone who would do that obviously has something to hide and should be relentlessly investigated until their crimes are uncovered. “Alternative interrogation methods” might even be needed until they confess.

You've been Punk'd.....courtesy of Comcast says:

What about the content this DVR camera may pick up? Bedroom DVRs etc? Will the DVR get a show rather then showing one? This is a horrible idea, the government would tap it, with some excuse, and privacy in our homes is gone. Comcast, you really have sunken to a new low….. I want to WATCH TV not be on it. I wouldn’t even get this if you can “shut it off”, they still have control, I would want not want this feature, unless i could but blind on the camera… but whose to say there isn’t a second.. or maybe they already have them installed?

Joe says:


its a cool way to break in peoples houses… they need a microphone as well… that way i can watch if they leave a purse or wallet in the living room… break into the house ( listen if there’s a security system of course ) then steal the goods…

I mean, the camera is always on. I know if the TV is off or on or hasn’t been touched for a while.

Scott Spinola (user link) says:

Would not accept this if they paid me

If they gave me free cable for life and actually paid me on top of that they couldn’t get me to accept this. Anyone who accepts this nonsense into their living room deserves every privacy violation they get as a result.

The fact that they have control of the cable/DVR box in my home would make irrelevant any consumer privacy controls they might offer.

I agree with the earlier poster. Who comes up with this nonsense? Maybe this is a hoax, but would anyone be surprised if it wasn’t?

Shane says:

Re: Would not accept this if they paid me

I agree whole heartedly. Sad truth is if comcast offered substantial savings to camera customers as part of “marketing research” then a large percentage of “middle” people a.k.a short sighted, short memoried, drone americans would sign up.

Then its only a matter of time before the majority of privacy oriented people would become the minority and you would have to opt out of standard, country-wide entertainment to preserve your privacy.

Its amazing how slight pressure over a long period of time can sway public opinion and concern.

Jay says:


such as recognizing if a child is watching, so that child content filters are automatically turned on

I find it very disturbing that everyone feels they need to play the parent. It is the parent’s job to monitor and filter what their children watch not the cable companies. Next they will be telling me I cannot watch certain shows past 10 because they feel I should be in bed sleeping.

ComcastCares (user link) says:

Comcast Response

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

realist says:

Re: Comcast Response

Look, they told us the same line about how the microphones in the cable boxes and the Google PC microphones were only being used to monitor for ads.

They told us that there were no monitors on our phone lines at AT&T.

Look, if companies want more from their dollars, try this novel concept instead.

Don’t spy on your customers. Offer them a fair product at a fair price, and give quality customer support from LIVE HUMAN BEINGS.

I promise, everything else will take care of itself after that. If you really feel the need to spy on people for ‘demographic study’, install one of your motion devices in your executive bathrooms.

MO says:

Comcast Response

First off, two things pop into my head…Invasion of Privacy and what about families that practice nudism….? What about getting Pay Per View, buying some adult entertainment for some after hours lovin’ and…you can follow my train of thought on this one.

Hmmmmm….let me think about this. The Exhibitionist in me thinks…hehe…why not. The realist in me says…uhm no.


hesitations says:

Watching Me?

They’ve been watching me for years and You Too.

The microwave industry has long been transmitting personal data. What do you think they do with all that power? Just heat your coffee? !! It is satellite linked.

You know how that thing in the bottom of the “oven” that turns? Do you know why? To line up with the satellite that is nearest.

Personally, I’ve known that the whole point of digital TV was to facilitate two way data signals. My entire 52 inch plasma screen is a one-way mirror into the governments data centers.

Shane says:

Webcam Are ya Nuts

I dont care if it is for user adaptive programs, parental Controls….Cough Cough

Can anyone say Orwell? instead of partying like its 1999, we are going all the way to 1984….

Hmm lets see traffic shaping, peeping tom….No wonder i switched to DISH !

No way on Gods green earth will i ever let these psychopathic idiots back into my house…What dipstick though this would be a good idea….What next your gonna tell us is for better viewing pleasure? Ha Right

Hey Frank, why dont you guys find a way to increase your network or something useful instead of pissing off the rest of your customers…


sensible scholar says:

Why is everyone so paranoid?

There are some great applications such as video conferencing and the so-called child filters. Let’s just simply request that it’s default off, has a switch, and a activity light. When we act paranoid like this, it works against our cause of freedom. Comcast isn’t an evil company, nor do they want to spy. Yes, there’s lots of area for abuse, so let’s make sure the hardware allows the user/owner to control it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why is everyone so paranoid?

There are some great applications such as video conferencing and the so-called child filters. Let’s just simply request that it’s default off, has a switch, and a activity light.

Another great application is that it will help identify bad guys. Obviously they’ll be the ones with something to hide and who’ll turn the camera off. At the very least anyone who turns their camera off or blocks it should immediately be put on the no-fly list.

Animadverto says:

Re: Re: Why is everyone so paranoid?

For the record, I was put on the no-fly-list. I was a corporate whistle blower. My telephone lines were tapped and whether you people realize this or not many of these boxes have had cameras and microphones in them for years. They are now just admitting this.

Fortunate for me, I do not have a spouse or children. But make not mistake that they will use information to harm them, if they can not get to you.

Fortunate for me, I knew the game and I used the game to put a foot up the crack of their corporatist backside. Don’t be so eager to give up your right to illegal search and seizure. You will regret it.

You are an ignorant person.

At the end of WWII Niemoller wrote the following poem:

They came for the Communists, and I

didn’t object – For I wasn’t

a Communist;

They came for the Socialists, and I

didn’t object – For I wasn’t a Socialist;

They came for the labor leaders, and I

didn’t object – For I wasn’t a labor leader;

They came for the Jews, and I didn’t

object – For I wasn’t a Jew;

Then they came for me –

And there was no one left to object.

Martin Niemoller, German Protestant Pastor,

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Why is everyone so paranoid?

Then they came for me –
And there was no one left to object.

Well, he outlasted the rest of them didn’t he? I’m sure those who objected where among the first to go.

It’s like the story of the conversation between two campers in bear country:

First Camper – What would you do if we were attacked by a bear?
Second Camper – Run.
First Camper – Don’t be silly. Humans can’t outrun bears.
Second Camper – I don’t have to outrun the bear. Just you.

John (profile) says:

Follow the money

I forget where I heard it, but think about that quote: “Follow the money”.

Do we realistically think that Comcast is installing cameras to look for children and “filter content”.
The reality is that the camera is looking for children to filter the ads: if kids are in the room, the cable box should serve more adds for Barbie, Legos, and other toys.

Want to watch the History Channel or the Discovery Channel? Sorry, there are kids in the room- the cable box will be permanently set on Hannah Montanna and cartoons (of course, fully funded by Disney) until the kids leave the room.

We’ll then see a reverse of the Neilson ratings: instead of 20 million people watching “Lost”, 30 million cable boxes will be “filtered” to only show “Lost”. (Again, funded by ABC’s corporate parent, Disney.)

This would be a cool idea, though: give Comcast enough money and they’ll “filter” the cable box so only your show is being seen by everyone.

Animadverto says:

Good luck finding the camera or microphone. It does not look like your “common” video cam. Furthermore, not all of them have one…”yet”. You will have to buy a new box.

You see…the “Corporatist Pimps” are all in cahoots with each other. I know; I have lived it for 15 years. I patiently wait to take the next one out.

wireless camera (user link) says:

Wireless cameras

Unlimited range audio/video miniaturized bug


3G and GSM spy camera is an audio/video surveillance device. UMTS technology based, it enables you to keep an eye on what is going on remotely, in a place you want to control.
Particularly suited to those who need to monitor their house or to put under surveillance the workplace, the 3G bug FALCON offers the opportunity to work in two modes: one with audio and video that allows you to listen and watch what happens in the place subjected to observation; the other mode is as an environmental bug giving the possibility to listen with its powerful preamps microphones, listening everything that happens in his range.

To use the first mode, audio/video, simply make a video call to the SIM card inserted in the FALCON (UMTS coverage required), for the environmental mode it’s enought instead make a simple call from any phone or cell phone, to the FALCON (GSM coverage required).

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