Released by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on November 9,
this new patent application
outlined two types of databases that would serve as a repository of customer
information. One of these databases, according to the filing, would employ a
In short, this database would hold private and identifying
information of customers that’s only accessible by authorized entities. In an
effort to raise transparency, the proposed system would create a log of every
time it is accessed.
The second database, which would be distributed in nature but not
explicitly on a blockchain, could house user location information, serving as a
honeypot of customer data for entities seeking to access it.
Comcast noted in its application that customers often take
advantage of multiple systems and services, from websites like Hulu to
traditional televisions and access programming. It aims to capture and evaluate
consumer viewing habits across myriad platforms, creating a capture point for
While this application marks a first for Comcast, it is not the
company’s only foray into the blockchain world. This summer, Comcast joined a partnerships with Disney, NBCUniversal, Cox
Communications, Mediaset Italia, Channel 4 and TF1 with the intent of creating a new blockchain-based advertising
Joshua A. T. Fairfield, an internationally recognized
law and technology scholar specializing in digital property, electronic
contract and big data privacy, believes that initiatives like these raise some
red flags with respect to consumer privacy.
“Imagine that, as you are going to bed for the
night, you notice a drone watching you through the window,” Fairfield said. “Imagine
then that this drone follows you everywhere you go throughout the day: to the
doctor, to the therapist, to political rallies, to religious services and to
the bar, month after month after month. And the drone tracks you online as
well. Imagine the drone recorded every web search you made, recorded every
keystroke you entered, where you were browsing, what you were interested in.
Once the drone finds out who you know, your spouse, your children, it sends
drones to track them too and tie all of your data together.”
Fairfield, in using this hypothetical example, is
quick to point out that media companies don’t follow us with drones because
they don’t need to. But his comparison still stands. Comcast does not gather
all of this data for the benefit of consumers. Rather, Fairfield said, they do
it for their own benefit.
“Quite simply, they want to know what we want,
how much we want it and how much we can afford to pay,” he said. “Entering an
economic transaction such as this is like playing poker with someone who can
see your cards. The consumer can’t win.”
As advancements like the one proposed by Comcast
continue to take shape, Fairfield hopes that regulatory agencies will begin to
listen to consumers and hold companies accountable for the appropriate use of
“I hope that we will be able to see past the
flash and noise of politics to realize that we have a limited window of time to
make sure that in years to come, consumers are the owners of their data and not
owned,” he said.