Spy On Me TV: Are You Watching the TV, or is the TV Watching You?

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Over 40 million U.S. households have a smart TV. One reason that they are so popular with consumers? They have so many options on them now. From streaming services to apps. But did you know those same options also make them popular with hackers? This leaves many to ask, am I watching my TV or is it watching me?

Jessica Miller and her family enjoy watching their new smart TV but because she has a seven year-old, she took some steps to make sure it was safe for him.

“My concern was there are a lot free apps that have things on them that are not appropriate for children,” said Miller. “But luckily, you can use parental locks.”

She thought that by changing that parental lock code often, it was the only safeguard she needed. But now, she has new concerns. And, one local expert we spoke with says she should.

“It’s very frightening,” exclaimed Bill Gardner. “And they’re all there to make our life easier, but they also pose a risk to our privacy and security.”

Bill Gardner teaches digital forensics and informational assurance at Marshall University. He helps expose the weak spots in certain technology before criminals can expose them. Today, he’s concerned about television manufacturers exploiting consumers through items like undisclosed tech in their TVs.

“They are not aware that they are even there,” Gardner said. “But, they are actually spying on them.”

Earlier this year, Vizio agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle claims alleging that the company had collected viewing data from 11 million TVs without getting the owner’s approval.(https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/blogs/business-blog/2017/02/what-vizio-was-doing-behind-tv-screen)

“I feel that they should notify you or at least ask your permission,” added Miller.

“It’s quite quite sneaky,” stated Gardner. “And, that’s one of the reasons that the FTC fined Vizio. It was because they weren’t open and obvious and had not disclosed to consumers what data they were collecting number one and number two what they were doing with the data.”

“It’s a little scary!,” Miller stated. “To be honest, big brother is watching you 24/7 and listening to your conversations. I know that they have cameras and microphones. I mean can they really, do we really have to turn them off and can they really see what we’re doing?”

Believe it or not, Bill says that possible too.

“The new smart televisions are going to track a lot more information about your viewing habits,” Gardner added. “And also, it may try to pick up keywords from your conversation about products that you’re interested in.”

And Bill says says the fear is that this tech could be used beyond just documenting for an advertiser what you are having for breakfast. Criminals could use this tech for nefarious reasons, like stealing your identity or being a virtual peeping Tom.

“You still have this thing in your house and it’s watching you and listening to you, Gardner said.

Jennifer asks, “So, what is the best way to find out if your smart TV does have a hidden camera?”

“That’s a good question,” Gardner stated. “Take it apart!  However, most people aren’t going to do that. If you have a question, go look at the FTC website or the manufacturer site.”

Bill has a few other simple suggestions to protect your privacy.

If you use Amazon Firestick, make sure you are receiving regular updates for maximum security on it. And, for your WiFi.

“You should be using WPA2 which is the strongest encryption available then make sure you have a good strong password on your Wi-Fi. 

And, Bill says to always change the default password on all of your devices.

“In the case of televisions, you can hold down on the menu button and then you can turn off the smart features of your television,” said Gardner. “This means that it’s no longer listening to you and no longer watching you.”

This makes this mom feel a little safer and smarter about the tech in her TV.

“My little family crawls in my bed and we watch TV,” exclaimed Miller. “I don’t want people to see inside our lives, that’s private.”

And, Bill says there should be push for some legislation at the federal level saying what consumers’ rights are with these devices.

The bottom line is, if you have a smart TV, take a closer look at your privacy settings. We have compiled an extensive list of instructions on how to turn off marketing collection options, smart TV options and voice recognition recording features.

To stop LG smart TVs in their data-gathering tracks, go to Options > LivePlus > Off. If you don’t see LivePlus as a menu choice you’re safe. On a Samsung, head to the TV’s Smart Hub, and then: Terms & Policy > SyncPlus and Marketing > Disable.

If you have a Samsung TV, there are several ways to turn off voice recording. On newer TVs, go to Home > Settings > System > Expert Settings > Voice Interaction and turn to off. On older TVs, it may be in Settings > select Smart Features > Voice Recognition > switch to off.

You can also go to Settings > Support > Terms & Policies and opt to “Disagree” with the policies for Viewing Information Services, Voice Recognition Services, and Nuance Voice Recognition and Privacy Notices.

Samsung can also track your viewing habits and send that data to advertisers for targeted marketing purposes. To prevent this tracking, go to Menu > Smart Hub > Terms and Policy > SyncPlus and Marketing> disable SyncPlus.

If you own a Vizio TV, you can disable data collection by going to your TV’s Menu > Settings > Smart Interactivity, or any option with Automated Content Recognition, and turning it off. It may also appear under System > Reset & Admin > Smart Interactivity or Menu > System> Reset & Admin > Viewing Data to Off.

LGTVs also include tracking software, but by a different name. On webOS TVs, go to Setting > General > About This TV > User Agreements > and opt out of Viewing Information, Personal Advertising, and/or Voice Information. Opting out of Voice Information will disable voice control.

On older model TVs, click on Settings > Options > LivePlus and toggle to “off.” Some LG TV models may call this Collection of watching info.

Sony TVs – Go to Home > Settings > TV – About > Legal information > View Privacy Policy and opt to disagree with the policy to prevent the device from sending information to Sony’s servers. Older TVs may show Disable Upload Data instead.

If you use a streaming device like Roku, Chromecast, or Amazon Fire TV, your viewing information is also being collected. You can opt-out of collection for Chromecast, as well as Amazon Fire TV (Settings > System > Internet based ads to off). Roku collects search history, records voice searches, and uses cookies to track what you’re watching. You can go to Settings > System > Privacy > and turn on Limit Ad Tracking to turn off personalized ads and prevent Roku from passing on identifiable ad measurement data to providers. Apple TV doesn’t collect viewing or search data but, if you opt in, it does record a log file that helps the company diagnose bugs or system errors.

For securing your wireless network, check out https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0013-securing-your-wireless-network

For more information go to your television manufacturer’s or the Federal Trade Commission websites. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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