Welcome to the IoT: Will Your TV Be Watching YOU?

March 12th, 2015 by admin

Silhouette of the heads of a man and woman set next to an image of a desktop monitor

We've talked recently about the potential dangers of the rapidly expanding Internet of Things, or IoT. As we discussed, the IoT consists of embedded sensors collecting data from dozens of devices in your daily life—your car, your health and fitness equipment, and even your home thermostat. All that tabulated data is intended to help you, whether it reminds you that your car needs a tune-up, that you're slacking off on those cardio workouts, or that the heat can shut off because you're not at home. But just as when the Internet first exploded upon us in the mid-1990s, IoT technology may be growing faster than our ability to regulate it and protect our privacy—from hackers, corporations, and even the government.

Smart Devices: Getting Too Smart?

Consider this recent Salon.com article. The author was excited about buying a state-of-the-art "smart" TV—until he read all 46 pages of the manufacturer's Privacy Policy.

Think for a moment about the last time you needed to check an "I Agree" box before installing software, downloading music, or applying for a job online. Did you actually read the binding legal contract you were virtually signing? Like most people, you probably skipped that "fine print," whether it was three pages or 30. "It's got to be fair," you assured yourself, "or they couldn't get away with it." And you clicked through.

In the case of that smart TV, they actually try to get away with quite a lot. Soon after plugging in that new TV, the user is asked to give their consent to:

  • Set cookies and beacons marking the content you watch and the E-mail you read.

  • Track the apps you use, the websites you visit, and your online interactions with both.

  • Record facial recognition via a built-in camera.

  • A voice recognition feature which may "transmit your spoken words to a third party."

But what about opt-outs and do-not-track requests, you ask? The TV's Privacy Policy specifically excludes them. You're not just watching TV anymore—it's watching you, too.

New Targets for Hackers … or "Big Brother"?

Are we sounding a little too much like George Orwell here? Maybe. But in this relatively early stage of the IoT, who's to say your networked household devices won't be hacked to let a burglar know when you won't be home? Or after the uproar the federal government created by eavesdropping on millions of cell phone calls via the 2001 Patriot Act, could they someday get permission to monitor citizens via the data collected by their household devices—including their living room TV?

Before you consider upgrading to a smart TV, we recommend you isolate it—along with other IoT devices—from your home or office network via a dual-firewall or "DMZ" configuration. And block that camera the same "low-tech" way many laptop users already do—with a simple piece of black electrical tape over the lens.

For advice and support on protecting your privacy when it comes to IoT devices, contact us.

Posted in: Hardware and Software