That's the question now facing Hewlett-Packard in the wake of a viral video made by two co-workers. Check this out before finishing your Christmas shopping ...
Wanda Zamen and Desi Cryer realized, as they were experimenting with HP's new motion-tracking Web cam, that the device would perform properly and automatically follow the white face of Zamen -- but does not function and follow the black face of Cryer. They made a video demonstrating the malfunction and posted it to YouTube, where it's been viewed 750,000 times and spawned a flurry of discussion on Twitter and elsewhere online.
"I think my blackness is interfering with the computer's ability to follow me," Cryer says on the video, before semi-jokingly concluding: "I'm going on record, and I'm saying it: Hewlett-Packard computers are racist."
Here's the video:
Cryer says he welcomes response as to why the camera does not work for him. HP has responded: "HP acknowledged in a statement e-mailed to CNN that the cameras may have issues with contrast recognition in certain lighting situations. The webcams, built into HP's new computers, are supposed to keep people's faces and bodies in proportion and centered on the screen as they move."
HP also posted to its tech issues blog: "The technology we use is built on standard algorithms that measure the difference in intensity of contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose. We believe that the camera might have difficulty 'seeing' contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting."
Consumer Reports to the rescue! Sort of. The product watchdogs tried out the camera themselves on their own blog and discovered that it really is a lighting issue. When a black person is backlit, the camera doesn't follow him. When a black person is light from the front, it seems to work.
Here's their video:
Then again, I don't know about you, but my home computer work space provides no lighting in front, and I'm guessing a possible majority of others out there (of any skin color) might be in the same predicament. So in order to use an HP camera, especially if you're black, you'll need a lamp in order to fight seasonal affective disorder and poorly engineered computer hardware at the same time!
Zamen and Cryer, of course, are a little taken aback by the attention their video has received.
"We did it for laughs," Zamen tells CNN, "but if the video does make HP put out a better product, then great."