“I know y’all are puttin’ cameras in these cable boxes just so’s ya can spy on us.”
I was dumbstruck. I was working on the help desk for a cable company, taking calls from customers who needed billing or technical help. This was many years ago, when we released the first DVRs.
The absurdity of middle-America paranoia is something that often astounds me. The never-ending sense of conspiratorial collusion hovers over the under-educated like a specter of gray goo, slowly eating away at our collective sanity. The Internet’s done nothing to assuage this fear—indeed, it’s the biggest culprit. Think about how many times you’ve seen the same email forward claiming some horrible plight was about to befall anyone who uses their credit card at a gas pump or parks in a parking garage. Everyone’s got a murderous hook for a hand, and evil lurks on every web page.
“Sir, I can assure you, there are no cameras in our DVRs,” I said, choking back my sarcastic tone as best I could. What a maroon. What a nincompoop.
Fast forward a decade or so, and now, suddenly, I’m not so sure anymore.
The technology to put a camera in everything’s old hat. There are cameras everywhere, on everything, and to say we’ve become a generation of voyeurs is now little more than understated cliché.
If you missed it, earlier this month, Business Insider ran an article detailing a slew of new patents from companies like Comcast, Google and Microsoft designed to create TVs and DVRs that will do exactly what that “crazy” guy said they were doing more than a decade ago. Read one such patent application from Verizon here: http://bit.ly/DVRpatents
Imagine a TV that could detect you and your spouse having a fight in your living room, then serve up commercials for family counseling. Or maybe you’re eating too often in front of the TV and now every commercial is either for junk food or some exercise or diet program. Getting frisky with the missus? Here’s comes an ad for the latest Barry White compilation, maybe some chocolates and champagne tie-ins.
I’m not even kidding.
Sure, these kinds of applications are all pretty banal, but the next leap is just a small step, and it’s far more insidious. Insurance companies that measure your BMI via the TV and adjust rates accordingly. Maybe you’re enjoying an after-dinner cigar and scotch. Hello premium increases.
And that’s just the business side. Once you’ve willingly handed over your “reasonable expectation of privacy” to your cable company, how easy would it be for the local constabulary to tap in and see just how much “medicinal” Mary Jane you’re using? Do you live in an exceptionally Bible-belt county? Maybe your consenting-adult activity is a little too lewd for local laws.
In a nutshell, it’s becoming readily apparent that Joseph Heller’s old adage rings true time and again:
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.