I have a dumb TV. A really dumb TV. How dumb? So dumb that it doesn't even know who I am. It has no idea what I watch on it. Or when. It doesn't listen to me no matter how much I talk to it. Without my Comcast voice remote giving it the technological crutch it needs, my TV would ignore me completely when I speak. It can't see me either---it's blind as a bat. The internet? Never heard of it. And it doesn't even try to learn anything about me---it has no motivation at all. So it's deaf, dumb, blind, and lazy. Oh, and OLD too. Very old; I bought it about 9 years ago. So old in fact, it can't even remember what show I watched just an hour before. And it can't tell if I liked it. I want to break up with my TV and move on. But you know how it goes: You get so used to having it around, you know all its idiosyncrasies, it's really not that much trouble, sure the grass always looks greener, blah blah blah. I know there's an internet-connected "Smart TV" out there somewhere who so wants to meet me and has all the great interpersonal qualities that my current one lacks. It'll pay a lot of attention to me. And it will listen to me. Closely. This new generation of televisions practically exclaim, "Hey, Always Listening!" (or HAL for short). What's a person like me to do? You know, someone who still believes in some semblance of privacy and the sanctity of the home, wants some occasional solitude, and who doesn't think it's anyone's business when I view four commercials for the new-and-improved Snuggie. During the holiday shopping season last year, I realized that I'll have to break down and buy a new TV sooner or later. Screen size and clarity keep going up while prices keep coming down. Don't I want eye-popping reds and blues? And the blackest of black blacks? On a 65" screen so thin that not even Kate Moss could hide in its profile? And of course, a TV so smart that in time it'll know me better than I know myself? Given the ever-increasing demand for Smart TVs, it may soon be the only choice that I have. So....what's not to love? Plenty actually, if you understand the legal and practical ramifications of what your new TV demands in return. It's a Faustian bargain, digital-style. The security and privacy issues surrounding Smart TVs first started making a public splash in 2014 when people learned that Vizio, who has sold millions of Smart TVs since 2010, automatically and surreptitiously tracked what its consumers were watching, and then transmitted that data back to the company. What did Vizio do with it then? The Federal Trade Commission blog doesn't mince words:
Vizio then turned that mountain of data into cash by selling consumers’ viewing histories to advertisers and others. And let’s be clear: We’re not talking about summary information about national viewing trends. According to the complaint, Vizio got personal. The company provided consumers’ IP addresses to data aggregators, who then matched the address with an individual consumer or household. Vizio’s contracts with third parties prohibited the re-identification of consumers and households by name, but allowed a host of other personal details – for example, sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education, and home ownership. And Vizio permitted these companies to track and target its consumers across devices. [emphases added]
Consumer Reports has found that millions of smart TVs can be controlled by hackers exploiting easy-to-find security flaws.
The problems affect Samsung televisions, along with models made by TCL and other brands that use the Roku TV smart-TV platform, as well as streaming devices such as the Roku Ultra.
We found that a relatively unsophisticated hacker could change channels, play offensive content, or crank up the volume, which might be deeply unsettling to someone who didn’t understand what was happening. This could be done over the web, from thousands of miles away. (These vulnerabilities would not allow a hacker to spy on the user or steal information.) [emphases added]