That Smart TV Just Heard What You Said And Saw You Say It

Every holiday season is another milepost for electronics. It’s timed that way because people need showy gifts and because they’re sold on the idea that big football games will be even bigger viewed through a new device, or cooler viewed through some other kind of device.

These are also great times to succumb to technology that tracks even more of your life and to read scary stories about how this new technology can track everything you do and hand it over to advertisers (at best) or the government, or what the heck, someday, your wife’s divorce attorney.

That calm person who is not afraid of being tracked by various devices because he/she has nothing to hide is matched by the paranoid consumer who is sure he’s being actively and specifically observed. 

Three times in my life before the Internet, I’ve met and had extensive conversations with people who were sure they were being monitored by either TV or radio. I was told back then it’s a fairly common fear. Crazy people.



Except now, it’s basically true, and remarkably, the general attitude is to get over it: Extracting yourself totally from the cookie world is not easy and so why try? The industry flatters itself to declare what it does transparent. But, of course! That’s why those user agreements are so to-the-point.

Recently,  Michael Price,  who is counsel in the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, bought a Smart TV and decided to spend, I’m sure, most of a day wading through the manufacturer’s privacy policy. 

“The amount of data this thing collects is staggering,” he wrote for the Brennan Center for Justice site. “It logs where, when, how, and for how long you use the TV. It sets tracking cookies and beacons designed to detect ‘when you have viewed particular content or a particular email message.’ It records ‘the apps you use, the Web sites you visit, and how you interact with content.’ It ignores ‘do-not-track’ requests as a considered matter of policy.”

And, I should add, there will be terrific deals on them on Black Friday all over these United States. I tell anybody who asks that within a couple years, it will be routine for everybody to be accessing not just Netflix from their Smart TV, but dozens of other content choices as well. Roku is building its OTT system into some TV sets now, and really, it’s great. 

I never say, “But you’re giving up all of your privacy.”  Because we’re not even talking about all the information we’re giving up. Aftera all, it is all “anonymous” data of course, but somehow it doesn’t feel that way.

Price writes ominously about two features new Smart TVs:  “It also has a built-in camera — with facial recognition. The purpose is to provide ‘gesture control’ for the TV and enable you to log in to a personalized account using your face. On the upside, the images are saved on the TV instead of uploaded to a corporate server. On the downside, the Internet connection makes the whole TV vulnerable to hackers who have demonstrated the ability to take complete control of the machine.

“More troubling is the microphone," he continues. "The TV boasts a ‘voice recognition’ feature that allows viewers to control the screen with voice commands. But the service comes with a rather ominous warning: ‘Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.’ Got that? Don’t say personal or sensitive stuff in front of the TV. You may not be watching, but the telescreen is listening.”

I don’t think I’ve ever proposed anything truly criminal in my home, but I suppose we all have it in us. And it’s not something I’d like Comcast, Samsung, or the FBI to know.

There’s not much privacy protection, and Price points out, as the Internet of Things revs up, there will be many more things that can spy on us. Gen. David Petraeus, former head of the CIA, told a investors conference that smart devices being invented for the home are also dandy ways to collect personal information. Price writes that one publication’s headline based on the Petraeus speech hit the nail on the head: “We’ll Spy On You Through Your Dishwasher.”

If any of this bothers you, maybe you should have a talk about it with members of your family. But if you already have a Smart TV with voice recognition, maybe you should have that talk in another room.

5 comments about "That Smart TV Just Heard What You Said And Saw You Say It".
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  1. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, November 25, 2014 at 12:49 p.m.

    If I purchase a personal piece of property like this smart TV and it is stolen, it's grand larceny. If a stranger parks a webcam on my smart TV, that should be an invasion of privacy. Consumers should be able to turn off all of these listening methodologies given it is personal property bought.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 25, 2014 at 3:12 p.m.

    "We are begging to be controlled."

  3. Mark Mellynchuk from BDC Inc, November 25, 2014 at 5:01 p.m.

    "Give me convenience or give me death."

  4. Greg P from - video+analytics - , November 25, 2014 at 6:35 p.m.

    "If any of this bothers you"....try and use 867-5309. You know, Jenny's number.

    People have been using several low-tech(niques) for years to monkeywrench data miners.

  5. John Grono from GAP Research, November 26, 2014 at 6:15 a.m.

    My Smart TV has both voice and gesture control (well the remote has the voice control). It was fun to play with for a few days and then I disabled it as it was more trouble than it was worth. Mind you, the dog got a surprise when he turned the TV on once!

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