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Update: Comcast Responds to Camera Story

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The story of Comcast’s desire to know who’s in your living room has certainly touched off a web-wide frenzy, starting in our comments section and finding its way into The New York Times.

Gerard Kunkel, Comcast senior vice president of user experience, and the man interviewed for the original story, responded in our post comments section. In the interest of fairness, we wanted to give Mr. Kunkel’s response more prominence.


Your article on “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 your article on Comcast’s exploration of cameras you picked up on my conversation with another conference attendee. The other attendee and I were deep in a conversation discussing a variety of 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. I’m 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.

Gerard Kunkel

I responded to Mr. Kunkel in our comment with the following:

Hi Mr. Kunkel,

Just to further clarify. After you 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.

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.

I’d love to talk further with either you or someone else at Comcast to follow up on this story.

35 Responses to “Update: Comcast Responds to Camera Story”

  1. yup anti christ im done with comcast this is what i figure since they do not have a good power supply and it runs off the cable wires which producer a lil bit more wattage then a telephone line and then you have the power dc thing on the modem this is what gives cable its fast ness dial up only has like 56k what ever point is if their using their cable connection as a way for the video feed plus the inet plus the cable on the tv then they dont have much power to get live feed without a lagg so they would have to how you say stop one of them for a few secons so maybe everytime your screen goes black their using the reciever for the remote signal as a camera thats why the front has that black plastic on it when it goes black and goes out their prolly takin pictures as well as recording sound and when the quick couple seconds they got gets sent back it goes to normal just to see if its intresting what your doing all you need is a little tape so atleast the remote works lol but always remember any reciever without buttons that requires you to use the remote and only the remote then yeh thats the test box and they watchin that ass lol jesus is da only way out peepz repent or else he cometh quickly unto thee as a theif in the night

  2. Back when I was around 10 years old my Uncle, who is a minister, wrote about how the Government will watch us through our T.V.’s in the future..He had a lot of strange Newsletters that made him look a bit crazy. Now I’m 39 and see a lot of what he wrote back then possibly coming true. How did he know so much about the New World Order? Did people know about this back in the 70’s and 80’s? Even the stuff about T.V.’s.

  3. It is nobody’s business what you watch, or what anyone else who lives in your house, or anyone who visits your house.
    I don’t watch TV often, so is Comcast going to block programs that I might want to see simply because they are not watched often?
    What happens when my interests change and I want to watch something different?
    What about privacy and freedom?
    If you have children and are concerned about what they are watching, then you need to monitor the content, not the cable company. Be a responsible parent, be involved in your child’s life.
    For all those who say it’s crazy that they will be able to watch you – wake up and smell technology. Even if it is just with heat sensors and not a clear image, if they put something in to “see” your gestures they can see you.
    All those who have cable in thier bedrooms, think about this. All those who fool around on the couch, think about this.
    First they want to see you, then they’ll want to hear you. If they can add cameras to watch your gestures, they can add microphones in it, too.
    When will you ever be able to be yourself? We are already being watched every time we step outside of our houses – cameras in traffic lights, every store, mall, etc. We are tracked and recorded in our cell phones. The computer tracks what we read, type, etc. Your home is supposed to be your castle, where you can be free to be yourself without fear of others seeing your actions, free of ridicule, free of having to be perfect and proper.

    If I want to pick my nose, touch myself, or whatever in the “privacy” of my own home I should be able to do that…PRIVATELY! Without someone monitoring my “gestures.”

  4. TruthTime

    “The camera-based gesture recognition device is in no way designed to – or capable of – monitoring your living room.”

    Sure, the “recognition device” isn’t, but the CAMERA IS!

  5. Any technology can, and will be used against those it was intended to help. GPS, Cells, Speedpass, CCTV, Credit cards, Internet(email especially), etc. Every single one of these devices where touted as a “saving grace”. At first they all were. Then the US government AND private corporations started to use info gathered by these devices to track and monitor its citizens. I am by no means a criminal, why should I be treated like one? It is getting to the point of no return. Anyone see many companies charge you extra for paying in cash now? Welcome to the New World Order. Just wait, ISPs will soon start to charge for different types of Data flow over their network. For email it may be a few bucks. For video it will cost your 1st born….

  6. Let ’em… Let ’em subpoena my fast pass… Let ’em subpoena my cable box…

    It will end up showing that the records kept of my activities match up with what I did. Period.

    The only people who are hell bent on their privacy have something to hide. It’s about damn time that we Americans become accountable for our own actions. Cops got fired for visiting Jersey? GOOD! They’re supposed to be out WORKING. Someone got pegged in a divorce case? GREAT!

    If parents would raise their kids a little better, they wouldn’t ‘accidentally’ access adult content…

    Go ahead, track my bittorrent use. Track my TV watching times. Track what I watch and where I watch it.

    For crissake, people, get your heads out of your asses and take some responsibility for your own actions!

  7. Dabsinfiction

    I don’t need the cable company giving me advice on what programs to watch. The thing to work out is whether we have a choice in the matter. Can we say, “no thanks” to the camera deal? If it’s pushed on customers then it’s wrong in my book. I have no small children looking at R or Hard R rated movies, so I could care less about blocking certain programming.

    I can see this ending up in court. Someone somewhere will find a way to file a suit of some kind. I wonder what the FCC thinks of this camera business? Personally I don’t care. I’m still watching MY FAVORITE shows in my underwear.

  8. nASTY bOIL

    No they aren’t planning on watching you . Dickhead. But they are planning to raise prices , have you pay for High Def , allow stations to overide competitors broadcasts and ignore signal loss . Dickhead.

  9. saywhat

    “People are very stupid to think Comcast is putting a
    camera in your living room.”

    Yes sir. Pay no attention to the exponential increase in the cameras everywhere. It is just plain stupid to think anyone would try to put one in your house.

    Someone please pull this guy’s head out of his ass.

  10. the fast pass analogy is an excellent one to use here. fast pass lanes use technology like rfid to identify cars on the move, allowing them to go thru toll gates faster, reducing the lines for everyone else — a win win.

    but… fast pass operators also keep records. and those records are subpoenaed in court cases to determine the location of individuals. they have been used to fire nyc cops who claimed to be on the job while actually at home in new jersey, and in numerous divorce cases. in 2003, the state of new york received approximately 250 court orders for fast pass records, and they complied with roughly half of them.

    (this is all in my book, by the way – computer privacy annoyances. google it and buy it on amazon before it disappears.)

    so…. a helpful technology that can be used in unintended ways. sound familiar? that’s the problem here. if what the writer says is true, and if comcast keeps logs of its camera feeds, you can be 100% certain they will be used for other things you may not want.



  11. I am a consultant that works with Comcast. While my opinion is biased, I hope it will ring true for some of you.

    I’ve had an opportunity to meet with Gerard Kunkel a number of times. He is an expert in interface design and usability. If one theme resounds from every conversation I’ve had with him, it’s that one of Comcast’s most important goals should be to make life easier on their customers. If there’s a way to allow a customer to access a web site feature with fewer clicks, it should be done. If there’s a way to make it easier for a customer to avoid viewing programming that is unappealing (cage boxing) or inappropriate (kids should not have access to adult programming), Comcast should try to make that happen.

    If a camera recognizes me, turns on the TV, shows me ESPN because it’s the network I watch most, and NEVER shows me cage boxing because it’s a show I’ll never watch, that would make me happy.

    I understand that the camera might also be used for devious purposes, and that concerns me. I’m pretty sure it may concern Gerard as well.

    To me, one of the best interfaces ever invented was “Easy Pass” or “Fast Pass,” that lets drivers zip through tolls without stopping. I appreciate the fact that some designer, somewhere, thought up and implemented a “zero click” interface that makes life easier on me. I believe that Gerard is trying to create a “zero click” interface with the TV or cable company.

    I know that someone, somewhere, will be able to track my movements as a result of Easy Pass. Still, I would like to think, perhaps naively, that whomever designed Easy Pass did it with the best of intentions.

    I would also like to think that Gerard has our best interests at heart. My experience with him says he is a kind-hearted individual who has a passion for helping others. The fact that so many of you have spoken so vociferously, I’m certain, will influence his path, and he will work to safeguard your privacy.

    Asking “why do we let these people live” does not really help the debate. It’s good to express your concerns about an idea, but the person behind an idea with which you disagree is not necessarily Satan among us.

    Thanks for listening.

  12. Why don’t you ask the SVP of Corporate Strategy where he used to work before he joined Comcast. Hmmm. Try the Central Intelligence Agency…this is true.

  13. Valerie Josi

    Is anyone surprised?! They would be watching in a heart beat if it were legal and I am not totally convinced that is a bar to anyone now a days.

  14. The last thing we need is a “individual outside” company like Applied Digital Solutions working closely with communications companies.
    “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.” – From a Comcast spokesperson regarding an article about comcast watching the consumer. Here is my response, instead of putting movement/gesture biometrics into it’s cable boxes to “Improve user experience” why doesn’t comcast work on fixing it’s current technology to “improve user experiences”. Comcast took over Insight’s operations here in my home town and since it has taken over I have had nothing but problems. When insight was still running it’s own show in my town I never once had any problems or complaints. Weeks after the take over was official I have had nothing but problems with my cable, and my cable internet.

    Too often I am subject to an enormous amount of lag regarding the internet connectivity, and odd problems I’ve never seen with cable television. On occasion the television will black out and at the top left of the television “Low signal” appears (keep in mind I am a cable customer, not satellite/dish). Too often the picture will pixelate and freeze. Other times after a commercial break the last ten+ minutes of a show will completely repeat. Lets say I am in the middle of a show and I seen a few specific scenes already, the commercial break kicks in, when it goes back to the show I will be re-watching scenes of a show that I have already seen. At one point I recorded a show and all that recorded was the first half of the show twice. I know this sounds odd, but it has happened so many times I lost count. I told my wife about it, but she said she hasn’t seen it happen. Then the other night she was watching a movie, after the commercial break a previous scene already aired replayed and she said “Am I going crazy or did we already see this part”, at which point I said “I told you so”. The amazing thing is not once when this happens is it ever caught, because you have to sit there watch the previous ten minutes or so that they already broadcasted just so you can watch the rest of the show/movie, and that is if the ending is not cut off because of their rebroadcast of previous scenes. It’s f*cking ridiculous and the user experience is quite literally shit.

    If they are really worried about consumer experience I would suggest they work on their present technology, stop purposely slowing connections to the internet (slowly than advertised up/down) and fix what the hell they are doing when replaying portions of a show/movie more than once, fix the pixelation problems, and total video signal losses. I believe this camera/movement biometics has very little to do with user experience and more to do with some ulterior motive (whatever it may be).

  15. When you don’t want the camera to see what you’re doing, put a piece of tape over the lens. . .

    To be sure,when they come out with a cable box that can respond to voice commands, it could always be listening. But this will be the golden opportunity to tell them about the aliens! And they’ll have to listen!

  16. The PATRIOT acts gives an unlawful green light for the government to spy on you by whatever means they choose, withourt a warrant. Are there really any people so naive that think this is just a benign “feature”?

  17. What you will see… a 2-way video telephone that will be displayed on your TV. You will be able to make a phone call
    to a grand-child or your mother in a different state and be….able to see them and they see you.

    2 way video phone is the next step but I can hear the critics
    now…..what is Comcast up to now?

    These were the same people….when radio and TV came out to the public for the first time and called it witchcraft.

    Grow up people.

  18. SoSickOfIt

    GMC lost me by pushing OnStar spy system in all their vehicles.

    Marriott lost me when they played big brother and told me I could not smoke in a hotel room

    Comcast has lost me now just be Proposing this kind of technology.

    No thanks comca(spy)cast

  19. LOL @ everyone thinking Comcast is going to be watching you in your living room. Takes a pretty stretched imagination to actually believe that. Gullible, anyone?