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As has been in the news (and advertised to high hell) for the past few days here in NJ, Cablevision and ABC are involved in a feud. Cablevision is advertising everywhere - I heard at least 4 ads on the drive home from work about how ABC is making unreasonable demands, asking for $40M, etc.

Well, then I found something more interesting. I stopped at a friend’s after work and turned on the (Cablevision) cable box. Strange. It was a full-screen ad from Cablevision about the ABC situation. And it seemed to go on forever. But… huh? The cable box was tuned to channel… 1999. I changed the channel, and got regular TV back.

But when I got home and turned on my cable box - which was last tuned to channel 47 and is setup to resume on the last channel it was tuned to - it also started up to the Cablevision ad on channel 1999.

To anyone who’s read Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, this is as clear an indication of the problems with appliancization as anything.

Don’t take this lightly. It has some serious implications. Specifically, the basics of what Cablevision did:

  1. Pushed out a new software version to all of their cable boxes, very quickly, that added a new channel.
  2. Changed an arbitrary setting in the configuration of their customer’s boxes (the channel that displays at power on) remotely.

The idea that Cablevision can control all of their customer’s boxes remotely, and this quickly, is a bit disturbing. If any of you have ever checked out the diagnostic mode on a Scientific Atlanta box, you’d know that it’s more or less a full computer (the “channels” are actually streaming media over IP) and the amount of control that Cablevision has is virtually limitless.

(The automatic channel change has been confirmed by a number of other people.)


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