Smart TVs are no longer the newest high-tech gadget on the block. They are rapidly becoming the only option stocked on store shelves. But recent controversy over privacy concerns is prompting more and more people to wonder if smart TVs are a dumb idea?
Smart TVs made their debut more than ten years ago. The first television equipped with an Ethernet port and built-in WiFi support was developed around 2006 or 2007 by Hewlett-Packard. HP MediaSmart TVs could stream movies from a content provider or become a Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) receiver from a home-based PC.
The DLNA had been founded in June 2003 by a fleet of commercial consumer electronics companies, with Sony at the helm. Calling their sweeping initiative “a new certification standard”, this group of self-interested parties developed and promoted a set of interoperability guidelines to share digital media among multimedia devices.
In 2008, Samsung introduced one of the first commercial smart TVs called the Pavv Bordeaux TV 750. Home users could hook up their PCs with local area network (LAN) cables and watch the news, weather, stock prices, YouTube videos, and content from USB flash drives.
You may not realize it, but your smartphone, PC, tablet, TV set and storage server are all DLNA-certified devices. Home users send videos, pictures or music from a smartphone or storage server through the household wide-area network (WLAN) to a TV set or other display device.
Some smart TVs come equipped with cameras to support video conferencing via Skype or another similar app.
Over 40 More than 200 companies are now part of the DLNA consortium of consumer tech companies.
It is estimated that over 6 billion DLNA-certified devices have been installed in their purchasers’ homes. The second-quarter 2017 Nielsen Total Audience Report counted 69.5 million households with a connected-TV device. According to IHS Markit data, that number represents about 45 percent of U.S. households that own TVs.
Telecom, cable, and satellite network providers enforce digital rights management (DRM) on both the sending and receiving ends of all transmissions in order to protect information sharing from piracy or other data security breaches.
But who is protecting the consumers from the technology?
It turns out that smart TVs are the ultimate surveillance tool. They record all user activity and send it back to the manufacturer. Each and every Samsung smart TV comes with this consumer 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 through your use of Voice Recognition.” That’s right. Big Brother is listening to every word you say near your smart TV. How smart is that?
A smart technology called Automated Content Recognition (ACR) reveals all the data required by snooping third-party vendors whenever your device establishes an internet connection. Every online place you visit is identified by an IP (internet protocol) address, its unique location identifier in cyberspace. ACR users unwittingly leave a trail of breadcrumbs that shows someone else everything they are watching – and when.
As I wrote previously this year, Facebook received a lot of negative press when news that their third-party marketing app vendors were illegally collecting user meta-data. Facebook execs claimed they knew nothing about this abuse.
Samba TV has data-tracking software pre-installed on smart TVs from Sony, Sharp, TCL, Philips, and other vendors. The feature requires an opt-in acceptance during setup, but many users blow by that screen and automatically click OK without reading the fine print. Samba said, “it collected viewing data from 13.5 million smart TVs in the United States, and it has raised $40 million in venture funding from investors including Time Warner Cable, cable operator Liberty Global and billionaire Mark Cuban.”
Television maker Vizio reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to pay a fine of $2.2 MILLION for transmitting consumer data back to the company’s servers for sale to paying advertisers. All of the data Vizio devices collected before March 1, 2016, must be deleted. The company claims it has disabled the Vizio Internet Apps platform setting on all subsequent TVs.
The numbers tell us that millions of Americans are just fine with sacrificing their online privacy for convenience and higher data speeds.
Others are not at all happy that their television is eavesdropping and tattling all their online activities to greedy merchants whose goal is exploitation. Articles are starting to appear with titles like “HOW TO STOP YOUR SMART TV FROM SPYING ON YOU.” Solutions proposed include disconnecting from the internet and manually switching off data-sharing features.
There is a very good reason why privacy laws exist. They are guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, the law of the land. As NSA whistle-blower and political refugee Edward Snowden put it, abandoning any civil right for strictly personal reasons is folly:
“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”
Are we really going to let a bunch of technology-enabled sales and marketing weasels operate illegally and exploit all the details of our personal lives for their own profit?