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Cover Up, Your Smart TV May Be Spying on You

By Jeff Kagan
Jul 18, 2018 10:25 AM PT
smart tv companies should make personal data collection transparent and opt in

Did you know that fancy smart TV sitting in your living room, kitchen, bedroom or bathroom actually may be watching you? Sorry to break it to you. It's another example of amazing modern technology designed to help marketers while striking a blow to privacy. Then again, we haven't had privacy in more years than I can remember.

There are two ways to look at this. If you are a marketer, you love it. You can get loads of user data for your marketing. However, if you are a consumer who cares about protecting your privacy, you feel invaded. Those are the two ends of the spectrum on the issue.

As a user, I don't want to be snooped on. I don't want anyone knowing what I think or do. That's my business. It's personal and it's private. If a marketing company wants me to give up some information, it should ask me to opt in. It's not right for companies to assume they can take whatever they want as long as they mention they are doing so in the very long user agreements no one ever reads.

All About Cookies

As an analyst, I can see the incredible value on the marketing front for companies and their investors. Customer data can be an incredibly powerful tool that helps companies grow.

So you can see why it's easy to be torn on this one. Why can't we just do things in a way that everyone wins? Why don't more companies adopt opt-in policies, so that their users will be protected unless and until they decide they want to engage in data sharing?

This issue has been intensifying. Many marketing companies have been watching us to learn more about the things we use on a daily basis. They are collecting this data and using it to market things to us. This sounds pretty harmless, but as the practice spreads, the potential threat increases.

Today, if you ask Google a question, you suddenly may see ads on that very same topic on Facebook and many other sites you visit. It's all about those cookies. They sound harmless, but they are the culprit. It seems that cookies track every move you make online.

What if an unscrupulous company or executive should take your personal and private information and use it against you? That is the threat many are worried about. It's a looming possibility, as user data is collected and used by more good and bad companies all the time.

The Smart TV Revolution

The problem with the smart TV revolution is that companies typically don't make their privacy policy information readily available.

For example, is a company states on its website how it uses its customers' personal and private information, that does not enlighten the customer who is setting up a new smart TV. Who reads a website when installing a new smart TV? Heck, we barely read the instruction manual.

That's why it's important that privacy concerns be addressed before this issue blows up in the faces of these companies. No company wants the same kind of scrutiny Facebook and others have been facing of late -- and the situation is only going to get worse.

How to Make the Privacy Problem Disappear

Companies should have an opt-in process regarding the use of personal data. That way, their customers stand a better chance of protecting themselves -- or at least understanding what they are giving up. Sure, the universe of users will be smaller, but the privacy invasion problem will disappear. Isn't that worth considering?

That should go for everything. That means smartphones, cars, security devices, cable TV services -- everything. Yes, even TV sets. Today, data can be collected on every show we watch, everything we do on the Internet, and everything we do on our smartphones and other Internet-connected devices on our WiFi network.

Who would have guessed privacy invasion was in store for us when we saw those captivating television commercials for smart TVs? That was the other side of the same coin.

Smart TVs Should Stop Spying

Many smart TV customers opted into the Samba Interactive TV service in 2016, according to the company, which tracks everything users watch. However, many users might not know what Samba TV is, and they might not realize what they are giving up by authorizing it. They just think it's a feature of their new smart TV. Who thinks this is an acceptable way to gather all sorts of consumer information?

Concerns over the loss of privacy are starting to take center stage. Facebook has been under increasing scrutiny. Other Silicon Valley firms have been examined more closely. The ugly battle between Silicon Valley and the rest of America has been heating up.

We should protect ourselves, according to many in the tech industry. While that may be true, most people don't know how to do that. So, Silicon Valley has been taking a backward position. If consumers should protect themselves, companies need to make it easy for them to understand how to do so. They should not bury this important information in a massive owner's manual that no one is likely to read.

If companies want our private information, they should ask for it rather than just take it. It is not OK for them essentially to mug us for our data.

When I was in junior high, I was mugged by a snot-nosed bully who took my lunch money. It wasn't OK then, and taking my personal information without my permission is not OK today. Just saying.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.


Jeff Kagan has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2010. His focus is on the wireless and telecom industries. He is an independent analyst, consultant and speaker. Email Jeff.


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