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Intel Realizes People Don’t Want a Set-Top That Watches Them

Chip giant removes camera and facial ID feature from forthcoming Internet TV service, citing privacy issues and tech limitations

Intel Media is eliminating the camera and facial-recognition features from the set-top box for its forthcoming Internet TV service — concluding that any gee-whiz upside from the tech outweighed the likelihood of creeping out many prospective customers.

The chip giant cited limitations of the technology as well as privacy concerns, including from its partners, for the decision. The facial ID feature, which users could have disabled, was supposed to let Intel’s service offer personalized content suggestions and potentially targeted advertising.

SEE ALSO: The Big Bet at Intel Corp. That Could Change TV

Intel Media chief Erik Huggers, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, said part of the problem was that facial-recognition tech doesn’t work well in low-light living room settings. But Huggers said what “pushed me over the hump” to ixnay the camera-enabled was the public backlash over the revelations of the NSA’s secret electronic-surveillance program, which monitors phone calls and email communications in the U.S. to identify potential terrorist threats.

Aside from the now-abandoned “spy” set-top, Intel faces monumental challenges in taking on big cable and satellite TV operators with its over-the-top service.

The company is aiming to launch the service later in 2013, but has struggled to sign pacts with major media companies for TV content. Big programmers may be balking at the kinds of usage rights the chip company is seeking: The Intel Media service is being designed with massive network DVR farms, to store all linear TV content for the previous three days, according to the Journal.

While Intel says cost was not a consideration in scrapping the feature, the removal of the high-quality camera will help the lower the bill of materials for the box — meaning it will carry a lower price point at retail.

Actually, the majority of consumers do not have serious objections with a set-top equipped with facial-recognition features, according to Strategy Analytics survey released earlier this month. However, a sizeable 43% of consumers said they would “probably” or “never” accept such monitoring, the survey found.

Meanwhile, a U.S. representative in June introduced legislation in response to privacy concerns about set-tops with monitoring capabilities. The bill would force video providers to display the message “We are watching you” if they use devices that track users’ activity.

SEE ALSO: Surprise: Most TV Viewers Aren’t Alarmed by Camera-Enabled Set-Top Boxes

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