The Return Of Cable Boxes That Spy On You

from the wave-to-the-camera dept

Remember the outcry last year when a Comcast exec mentioned in passing the idea of a set-top box that would have a built in camera to monitor who and how many people were actually watching the TV? The outcry over that forced Comcast to say that it wasn’t really going to do that, but Broadband Reports points out that the technology behind such a plan is still moving forward — and apparently cable companies are, indeed, interested in it. The idea is that it can show personalized ads and better target content. It’s worth noting that the company behind the system, Prime Sense, seems to be trying to position it for less “scary” apps, such as being able to do “virtual touch” interfaces, so users could interact with menus on the screen without a remote (features found in some video games these days). Still, unless the end user is given total control over what info is recorded and where it’s being sent, this technology seems like a non-starter.

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Companies: comcast, prime sense

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Comments on “The Return Of Cable Boxes That Spy On You”

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aguywhoneedstenbucks (profile) says:

I have a great piece of technology for you

It will prevent these boxes from recording anything you don’t want them to. It’s called duct tape. I use it for a lot of things, and if this ever moves forward I’ll have another use for it.

A good alternative would be to set up something in line that sends 24 hour streaming hardcore fetish videos to the cable company instead. Maybe alternate that with 15 minute slide shows of goatse/tubgirl/whatever horrible things you can find. This technology would become worthless pretty quickly after that.

Alan Gerow (profile) says:

Re: I have a great piece of technology for you

If one were to play a video from a DVD in front of the cable box, could Comcast then get sued by the MPAA for DMCA violation, since the camera is recording the analog output of a DVD protected by CSS, and would be considered an attempt to circumvent copy-protection mechanisms? Forcing Comcast to remove its camera as a form to adhere to safe-harbor provisions?

DJ (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Maybe that would be a blessing in disguise.

If these companies start invading people’s privacy and get sued for millions of dollars FOR EACH OFFENSE, they’ll go out of business.

That’ll open the door again to the competition, thereby eliminating many of the monopolic (is that a word? It is now) strangleholds that cable companies have.

Hooray for back-door capitalism!! (pun intended)

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

You know what? Do it.

I, as a red meat eating American, enjoy sitting in front of my television, garbed only in a gimp mask and knee high tube socks. It’s usually around 10am on a Saturday after a heavy night of drinking that I like to sit spread eagled on the couch, with my feet on the glass reflective coffee table, ceiling fan blowing my nuts in the wind, while I do my damnedest to chase my dogs out of the room with my gas.

So my advice? Go ahead and watch. Putting a camera in my home does nothing other than challenge me to come up with new and inventive ways to gross out the illegal immigrants you’re going to be paying below min wages to watch me in all my glory.

Ron (profile) says:

Re: You know what? Do it.

OK, this made me laugh.
But, I wonder when the company will figure a way to disable the cable boxes when no image is being recorded by the camera? So, to watch, you gotta be watched.
Oh, new revenue stream: the cable companies can have a channel that randomly displays what’s being captured by some other cable box camera. It would be a whole new entertainment idea: streamed casual voyuerism.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: You know what? Do it.

Fine. Make my channel the all nutsack channel.

The reason that ideas like this are stupid is because for every forlorn sheeple out there that will nod their head, assume that big business and big government have their best interests at heart, and go along with an idiotic idea like a PRIVATE GODDAM COMPANY POINTING AN EFFING CAAAAAMMMMMEEEERRRRAAAAAA INTO YOUR LIVINGROOM…..pant pant pant….sory, anyway, for all of those people there is someone like me that’s going to use your assanine little scheme to make you and your workers very, very uncomfortable.

If that means having my girlfriend playing ring toss with a set of jelly donuts and my erect wang while I watch Sunday NFL Football, so be it.

CommonSense (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: You know what? Do it.

You make many very good points here, regularly. But the thing that won me over? The fact that it took you mere minutes to think of the idea to have your girlfriend toss jelly donuts on your erect wang while you’re watching Sunday NFL. Best idea ever…
Girlfriend playing with my boner: check.
Jelly Donuts: check.
Sunday NFL: check.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Hmmm .....

If you want to be technical, Infrared closer to the visible spectrum will penetrate glass but the spectrum used for thermal imaging generally will not (though you really have to figure out what frequency you are talking about to get specifics. It also depends on whether the glass is surface treated to block infrared but most glass will block infrared in general). Plastic is also good at blocking infrared, even clear plastic, though glass is better.

“In fact, the thermal imaging doesn’t even see through glass because the glass has its own thermal profile.”

For thermal imaging one can use a negative film being that negative film. Negative film will transmit infrared (the infrared used for thermal imaging) but it will not transmit visible light very well (as you can see by looking at them, they are opaque).

Here, this helps explain the physics.

(I don’t really want to get too technical unless you request that I do).

In fact, if you take the glass lens off of your camera and replace it with a negative film it may capture more infrared (depending on the antenna) than before (though it will block most visible light but when translated on the screen the camera may render the image as infrared). However, the antenna of a consumer grade camera is not well suited for capturing infrared, unlike a thermal imaging camera, so it probably won’t be well suited for thermal imaging.

Try this, get a remote control and face it towards your camera or camera phone and press the button. You will see a red light, that’s infrared (though you can’t see it with your eyes). Yes, it penetrated the glass but that’s because the wavelength is closer to the visible spectrum.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Hmmm .....

“For thermal imaging one can use a negative film being that negative film.”

Actually, I take this back, it may depend on the film used and the specific wavelengths in question. But in general negative film is better at allowing infrared to pass through than glass is.

To get more technical whenever radiation is transmitted you have a distribution curve. Humans emit infrared due to body temperature but we also emit visible light, microwaves, ultraviolet light, etc… However, we emit these with less intensity than infrared. There is a distribution curve, certain frequencies are emitted with the highest intensity and as you deviate away from those frequencies the intensity will tend to get lower. This is generally true for all things that emit radiation. When you put glass in the way it changes the distribution curve and decreases the amount of infrared being transmitted through. However, glass blocks the most radiation at certain frequencies and as you deviate away from those frequencies the amount of radiation it blocks decreases. It doesn’t block visible light very well but as you move away from visible light and move within the infrared spectrum towards the frequency that it blocks most effectively more and more radiation will be blocked. This is true for anything that blocks radiation. High energy radiation like X – Rays or gamma rays may require thick layers of heavy metals like lead to block them. But if you use duct tape and glass you will pretty much block a substantial majority of both infrared and visible light (I’m not sure how well duct tape blocks infrared on its own so that’s why I threw in the glass since I can see that duct tape blocks visible light pretty well).

Nice Try says:

Can we say Direct-TV revenue will increase 😉

This goes forward I will be doing one of the following:
– Discontinue TV service completely, Direct TV here I come.
– Discontinue all digital services. Don’t need cablebox, can we say TIVO or record via Multimedia server. Only the very basic service.

Also, I will be putting a photo up a directly in front of the camera of a guy and Rosie five brothers.

Seriously, invasion of privacy.

DJ (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Hmmm, while I doubt that anyone here disagrees with you, you have some problems with your arguments that I’d like to point out for you.

1) “Discontinue TV service completely, Direct TV here I come.” Direct TV is still TV so that argument makes no sense whatsoever.

2) “Don’t need cablebox, can we say TIVO….”
You still need a box for TIVO so that argument makes no sense whatsoever.

3)”Rosie five brothers” WTF???????

Anonymous Coward says:

The camera will analyze the viewers to determine if they are the licensees of the broadcast, in order to prevent unauthorized viewing (i.e. Super Bowl parties).

Therefore placing duct tape over the camera constitutes circumvention of an access control device, a clear violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

You’ll be hearing from our lawyers.

D. Advocate says:

Only a matter of time...

It’s only a matter of time until our rights are eroded to a point where this is not only legal, but also accepted.

We, as lazy sheep-like Americans, have watched from the sidelines while the government is paid by big business to strip us of our rights. It’s done because of the terrorists, to save the children or any number of equally emotionally charged but completely irrelevant reasons and we sit back and and take it.

We have Stockholm syndrome. We have empathized and sympathized with the governemnt as they have led us into bondage and captivity.

We are now prisoners of this system.

And we either walked willingly or ignorantly into the prison, or we say idly by while the prison was built around us.

It will get MUCH, MUCH worse before it ever gets better – IF it gets better.

Like a beaten and abused wife, the more we allow ourselves to get used to the abuse, the less we think of it. Like an abused woman who says of her abuser: “That’s just him.” We now walk around saying “That’s just the government.” or “That’s just the way it is.”

We are lost, pathetic, scared little sheep who blindly follow the shepherd… even to the slaughter.

Don’t whine and complain… get off butt any do something. Even if it’s just joining and sending out emails to your representaives, do SOMETHING! ANYTHING!

Shake off your lethargy and take some action!

aguywhoneedstenbucks (profile) says:

Re: Only a matter of time...

I fire off emails often. So often, in fact, that I’m almost positive Louie Gohmert’s assistant has a special folder in her mailbox (probably somewhere under the recycle bin) just for emails from yours truly. You know what I get when I fire them off? Mostly nothing. A handful of time I received a canned response. Twice I actually received a response that was something near agreement (not on all my points, but a good compromise of my angry ramblings). Out of hundreds of emails that I’ve sent over the years that’s all I have to show for it. I learned something from actually speaking to Mr. Gohmert earlier this year:

Emails get read, categorized, and if they have an especially good soundbite they are forwarded on to the rep. A letter…an actual physical letter…is almost always read.

Yakko Warner says:

Guess I'll stick with analog

I already hate the idea of cable boxes, paying more to rent an extra box and another remote to lose. I like my dual-tuner picture-in-picture TV. I just take a plain cable from the wall, plug it in the cable-ready jack on the back of my TV, and I’m done.

I haven’t seen the need to get a thousand more digital channels that I’ll never watch, for more cost and more hassle.

Although with as little TV as I watch anyway, I’m quickly converging on the point where even analog cable is just not worth the cost.

batch (profile) says:

no way this will happen

its an invasion of privacy. Sure, they’ll put it in their TOS, but that doesn’t make it legal. It also doesn’t prevent customers from canceling your service or privacy advocates come down on you like the wrath of god. Not to mention crazies with shotguns just going to the local office to sort things out the old fashioned way, something I’d have to support if they tried this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Simple solution:

Make a video of your own. Say, a video of you making some impromptu gibbering noises. Something distinctive enough for you to claim copyright over it. Put that on a screen in front of their camera, so that they make a copy of your copyrighted work. Then sue them for 20k. But be nice, and offer to settle for 10k.

hans says:

digital penetration

badBIOS, Facts, speculations, and misunderstandings

First there was Stuxnet, then there was FLAME, the latest weapons grade malware is badBIOS accidentially discovered by Dragos Ruiu 3 years ago. More on the discovery in section 2

remotely monitoring and altering brain waves,951,134&OS=3,951,134&RS=3,951,134

United States Patent 3,951,134


Apparatus for and method of sensing brain waves at a position remote from a subject whereby electromagnetic signals of different frequencies are simultaneously transmitted to the brain of the subject in which the signals interfere with one another to yield a waveform which is modulated by the subject’s brain waves. The interference waveform which is representative of the brain wave activity is re-transmitted by the brain to a receiver where it is demodulated and amplified. The demodulated waveform is then displayed for visual viewing and routed to a computer for further processing and analysis. The demodulated waveform also can be used to produce a compensating signal which is transmitted back to the brain to effect a desired change in electrical activity therein.


“The monster is out of the bottle.”

The monster was never in the bottle, but above, below, and around us. Do you think this is really just a struggle between human beings? There is much more at work here.

Outcome #3: Your friends are here.
Aaron Cross: Yeah. Don’t you think that strange? Wolves, they don’t do that. They don’t track people.
Outcome #3: Yeah, maybe they don’t think you’re human.

– Bourne Legacy


“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

– Ephesians 6:12, The Bible


“We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.”

– William Casey, CIA Director (from first staff meeting, 1981)


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