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Big Brother is now watching YOU!

Big Brother is now watching YOU!

Is Anyone Listening?

Anyone who has ever read George Orwell’s spine chilling dystopian novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ will be familiar with the all-seeing ‘telescreen’ hanging on the wall of every home and constantly monitoring and sending information about its citizens’ activities back to ‘Big Brother’ at the Ministry of Truth.
Even George Orwell could not have imagined that nearly 70 years after writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, South Korean tech giant LG, would use its Smart TV’s to monitor users’ viewing habits, even when they had disabled the relevant feature in the set-up menu. LG claimed that they needed the data to assess how people used their TVs!

Television manufacturer Vizio has just paid out over 2 million US dollars in compensation as it is alleged that their smart TV’s have been covertly sending information on viewing habits back to the manufacturer, who has in turn been selling that data on to third parties. Vizio claims that user identification could not be matched with actual individuals so it’s not personal, but it does make me feel uncomfortable. It is claimed that Vizio collected unique data from each household in the US equipped with a Vizio smart TV. That data included viewing information, the household’s IP address, nearby access points and postcodes.

The US Federal Trade Commission stated that “This settlement stops Vizio’s unauthorised tracking, and makes clear that smart TV makers should get people’s consent before collecting and sharing television viewing information.”

A similar issue recently concerned Samsung’s Smart TV’s breaking privacy laws by allegedly recording and transmitting back to the manufacturer, voice data without the user’s permission in homes where voice actuated Smart TV’s were installed. TV sets having additional features such as on-demand viewing or video calling have also raised several privacy concerns in the past. It was widely reported that “when the voice recognition feature is enabled, everything a user says in front of the Samsung Smart TV is recorded and transmitted over the internet to a third party, regardless of whether it is related to the provision of the service.” Samsung claimed that it needed to send the voice commands to a third-party because that third party converted the speech into text. But Samsung also collected voice commands to enable it to perform research and to determine whether improvements needed to be made to the voice recognition feature. Samsung claimed that a microphone icon appeared on the screen when the voice recognition feature was turned on thus notifying customers that their voice was being captured.

If you have a Samsung Smart TV with voice actuation then worry not because you are able to turn off the voice recognition and actuation feature in the settings menu, however this feature was generally set to default to ‘turn on’ during the installation of each new Samsung set.

The company said in a statement, “Samsung does not retain voice data or sell it to third parties. If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature the voice data is sent to a server, which searches for the requested content then returns the desired content to the TV.”

Not just Television Sets that are Listening

But it’s not just television sets; it emerged recently that British consumers were being spied on by Microsoft’s voice-activated Xbox games consoles. It is alleged that the Xbox could listen in to everything in the room even though in its privacy policy, Microsoft stated that it was ‘only interested in voice commands to the Xbox, which we capture along with any ambient background noise. If you give Microsoft permission, we record commands whether you are online or offline’.

The Amazon Fire TV box that connects up to your telly also boasts that one of its features is voice recognition. Amazon’s terms of use states that any voice data ‘may be stored on servers outside the country in which you live’, and also admits that third parties may have access to this personal data.

Even ‘Smart Meters’, which we are being encouraged to have installed by our Government, will collect data about our energy consumption and constantly send that data back to the energy supplier. From that they will be able to know the time we come home from work, when we are on holiday, how often the house is left empty, even when we put the kettle on and make a cup of tea or switch on the lights!

With the growth of the ‘Internet of Things’ who knows what data is being collected and where it’s being sent. Clearly, our buying and viewing habits are invaluable to advertisers, enabling them to target specific items to a consumer who has already been profiled without their knowledge or permission. So next time you are in your lounge or bedroom it may well be that your smart TV or Xbox is eavesdropping on your every sound or action, so whatever you are doing, remember – ‘NOT IN FRONT OF THE TV!’.

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