We love technology. Who doesn’t, right? We only dreamed of doing the things we have now as kids. But now, we have the power to connect to the world through the World Wide Web. No need to spend hours researching a topic because the answers are right in front of you in mere seconds. Working abroad isn’t as painful as it once was because of Skype, social media, and other messaging apps. Technology has managed to make the world interconnected using gadgets we can’t afford to live without.
Even our homes are full of technology that not only makes our lives easier and convenient but more exciting too. We’re not juts talking about home appliances but more innovative technologies like the Smart TV. Who needs a smartphone, tablet or a computer if you can do the same stuff on your television, right? But recent issues are popping up saying that Smart TVs can spy on owners is downright disturbing.
Are your smart televisions, smart phones and smart fridges vulnerable to eavesdropping spies?
The WikiLeaks revelations that the CIA purportedly has the capacity to break into our everyday consumer electronics, still unverified when this story was published, raises that very troubling question.
“I am in general distrustful of leaks of this nature,” says attorney Chris Dore, a partner at Edelson PC in Chicago, which specializes in consumer privacy, technology and data security. “But from what I know of data security issues and privacy issues at the consumer products level, I have no doubt that hackers can do this and certainly the CIA and NSA are capable of doing this type of thing.”
According to the WikiLeaks data dump, CIA hackers could break into iPhones, Android phones, PCs running Microsoft Windows and Samsung smart TVs, and exploit the microphones inside such electronics.
This news really got people worried because smart TVs are in most homes today. Since they are generally sold cheaper now and other brands started carrying it too, more and more people can afford to purchase their own Smart TVs at home.
Smart TV data surveillance
The researchers assembled evidence showing how smart TVs are already divulging users’ privacy in a variety of ways. These include reported incidents of TVs transmitting viewing information back to manufacturers and accidentally eavesdropping on private conversations. The researchers also reviewed a number of implementation and enforcement actions in Germany and the Netherlands. What they found was that while the smart TV ecosystem is rapidly taking shape, there is clearly a trend on the part of providers and manufacturers to take full advantage of users’ personal data. ‘Our analysis shows how users’ agency is being significantly reduced because information duties haven’t been complied with and how default settings were not privacy preserving’, says Irion, senior researcher at the UvA’s Institute for Information Law.
Fundamental rights and media policy values
The researchers call on European and national policymakers to do more to protect media users’ privacy. ‘EU media policy oddly avoids the emerging issues of monitoring and tracking users’ media consumption, the role of targeted advertising, and how media personalisation strategies could affect media pluralism for better or worse’, says Natali Helberger, professor of Information Law. ‘The present situation is wholly inadequate in view of the important role of the media in pluralistic and democratic societies, both in member states and in the EU as a whole.’
If what this research says is true, then the privacy and rights of many Smart TV users have been and are continually being violated by these Smart TV manufacturers and their accomplice, so it helps to be finally aware of these things.
Should consumers be paranoid over the WikiLeaks revelations? “I think paranoia is a strong word,” Dore says. But he does believe consumers should be “skeptical” every time they bring a device into the home that is connected to the Internet, something that is increasingly taking place with the trend towards “always-connected” Internet of Things (IoT) appliances and gadgets.
“We are literally coating our house, our most personal space, in new Internet of Things devices that are being rushed to market, usually without much thought in terms of data security,” Dore says.
Cybersecurity specialist Pierre Roberge, chairman of the global cyber defense firm ARC4DIA, agrees: IoT devices and smart TVs have shown “very low security resilience to attacks in the last few years,” he says. “Our smart TVs, phones and PCs are constantly at risk and not only by the CIA as they are only, but one, state sponsored actor in the world amongst many.”
There is a price to pay for our over-reliance on technology. Although most gadgets and appliances make our life easier and better, we should be aware that they can also work against us. In this case, used as a spy tool to monitor what we do at home. Although there are claims that they are only used on suspicious individuals if this claim is indeed true, it is still a terrifying thought to realize that other people monitor your actions through your television without your consent.