Privacy SOS

Not your grandma’s television: New ‘smart’ TVs wiretap you in your own home

The Brennan Center's Michael Price has an incredible blog up about new so-called 'smart' televisions. He just bought one, he says, and was shocked to discover it came with a nearly 50 page privacy policy. Once you put one of these suckers in your home, however, privacy is a distant memory.

The amount of data this thing collects is staggering. 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 websites you visit, and how you interact with content.” It ignores “do-not-track” requests as a considered matter of policy.

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. 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.

Wiretapping your private conversations in your own home—no warrant required. Read Price on the legal and policy implications involved. Until we can overthrow the notorious 'third party doctrine', it isn't looking good.

Read about 'smart homes'.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.