Comcast is Watching You. Good or Bad?
The New York Times reports of a Blogger who gets an email after complaining about a service that is not there. Other people have complained about their bills and Comcast comes back with a “Can I Help”? Even others find themselves with internet connection issues for trying to use the service. This begs the question: are we seeing a new trend and is this a good or bad thing?
First of all, most likely they are not looking at your blog or twitter directly. They are most likely running searches from Google, Summize (remember – Twitter bought that company) and a bunch of other engines. They look at keywords that – in turn – give them information to turn around and say “What can we do?”
Last year while working at a job, we decided to implement a helpdesk system. I looked over a few systems, gave a recommendation and we implemented. The one I’m going to talk about wasn’t the one we went with simply because there were good features they lacked, but this is one feature that really made me think about the way we can see customers.
The service let you put a piece of code on each users’ desktop. When they logged into the network, that code would send a log to the helpdesk software. If any keywords showed up, the software would alert the helpdesk so action could be taken before the customer could call in.
Think about it: Google a specific topic. Let’s take Comcast for example. Go to Google, then “Advanced Search”. Type in “Comcast”, and filter to the last 24 hours. Not only will you get blogs, but you will also get twitters, plurks and a host of other items.
Now if you organize that with specific keywords like “Comcast” and maybe a hot word like “sucks”, you can see all the blogs and posts that follow. If someone wrote an API that could constantly search for these words, then they can report on a system and get back to the author.
Of course, if you are on Comcast’s’ network and sending plain text (like most blogs are), then it’s ten times easier for Comcast to filter and respond. If it was encrypted, that would be a different story. However it’s only plain old text passing through the internet for all to read – including Comcast.
What is the good? Well, you may not want them to watch what you are sending, but if you put it out on Twitter or in a blog, you want people to see it anyway. So why not Comcast? Why not AT&T? Why not Steve Ballmer or Steve Jobs? I suppose if Ballmer or Jobs were to call you tomorrow over a blog or Twitter, you might see that as an honor that they are noticing your posts.
It can also alert people of any questionable activity. In this post 9-11 era, concern over communication is a hot issue. With so many ways to communicate over the internet, it might be nice to stop another epic event before it takes place.
What is the Bad? Well, it’s just another form of Big brother watching. One more step closer for RIAAs and MPAAs to surface. It is wrong to duplicate and distribute copyrighted material, but for those who don’t do that it’s not fair if we are being watched.
Dave Winer reported that right before an Obama speech, he was disconnected from Comcast for “Security” issues. Dave instantly closed his Comcast account. If I was in the same position, I think I would have either done the same thing or strongly worded the incident and made sure enough people heard it. I would most likely do the latter if I didn’t have another avenue of connection.
Is there a “Happy Medium”? Not really. That is why history is riddled with events like witch hunts and the Spanish Inquisition (Yeah, I know. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition). But with pressure to have a safe lifestyle, you have to have someone watching over it, right?
Well, someone or something might be watching you now. Whether it’s the ISP seeing what you are posting on your Blog or twitter, a security camera watching your actions in and out of a retail store, an ATM watching you take your money or one person just peering out the window to see what you’re up to. It’s all the same, right?
Some may call this move by Comcast as creepy. Others may call it brilliant because they are preventing issues. Even others may call it questionable practice because they are watching you. But the old saying “Danged if you do, danged if you don’t” can come into play here. We want to be safe but we don’t want to be watched or held accountable. What goes on behind closed doors….