When “smart” becomes “snoop”: Your TV is watching you

New TV models recognize you and record what you do in your home–including bedrooms–feeding data to advertisers. Worse, hackers can access your devices, cyberstalk and blackmail you. They can even alert burglars at times you are apt to be away from your home. The FBI just put out a warning.

In 2005, the first edition of Interpersonal Divide stated: “We get the feeling on the other side of our computer that no one is looking back at us through windows, and yet, everybody could be.”

The second edition took that a step further, warning about privacy invasion from voice recognition speakers such as Amazon Echo (aka Alexa). Now, combined with embedded digital cameras, those speakers in televisions have eyes as well as ears.

And they’re stalking you.

So much so, in fact, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has posted a warning about privacy invasion and cyberstalking. Here’s an excerpt:

Beyond the risk that your TV manufacturer and app developers may be listening and watching you, that television can also be a gateway for hackers to come into your home. A bad cyber actor may not be able to access your locked-down computer directly, but it is possible that your unsecured TV can give him or her an easy way in the backdoor through your router. Hackers can also take control of your unsecured TV. … In a worst-case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you.”

Consider that last scenario. Bedrooms. Two thirds of adults have televisions there, and worse, 71 percent of kids age 8-18 do, too. Imagine what a bad actor can do, recording photos, videos and audios of what occurs in our most intimate space of our homes.

The FBI recommends that you take these steps to protect yourself and family members:

  • Know exactly what features your TV has and how to control those features. Do a basic Internet search with your model number and the words “microphone,” “camera,” and “privacy.”
  • Don’t depend on the default security settings. Change passwords if you can – and know how to turn off the microphones, cameras, and collection of personal information if possible. If you can’t turn them off, consider whether you are willing to take the risk of buying that model or using that service.
  • If you can’t turn off a camera but want to, a simple piece of black tape over the camera eye is a back-to-basics option.
  • Check the manufacturer’s ability to update your device with security patches. Can they do this? Have they done it in the past?
  • Check the privacy policy for the TV manufacturer and the streaming services you use. Confirm what data they collect, how they store that data, and what they do with it.

If you are the victim of cyber fraud, you should contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://www.IC3.gov or call your local FBI office.

Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine has chapters about privacy invasion at home, school and work, with sections on cyberstalking, harassment and bullying. In addition to televisions, Interpersonal Divide warns about other everyday spying appliances, including dishwashers, refrigerators and even coffee machines.

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