Smart TVs May be Spying on You - NBC Southern California
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Smart TVs May be Spying on You

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    Randy Mac looks at technology that could allow your smart TV to eavesdrop on your conversations, and deliver that data to a third party marketing for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. (Published Friday, Sept. 25, 2015)

    Some smart TVs may be smarter than you think, smart enough to spy on you, eavesdropping on conversations in your home and providing that information to marketers.

    Technology is so advanced now that your television can be voice activated.

    But doing so means your TV can hear you and so can its manufacturer who can sell your private conversations to other businesses looking to attract you as a customer.

    Charly Shelton, an information technology specialist, is what you might call "wired."

    "My house, in terms of technology is as close to Ironman as I can get it," Shelton said.

    Laptops, TVs and gaming consoles are all connected to Shelton's phone, but his concern is that as he watches TV, his TVcould be listening to him.

    "You never know when you're going to be heard and you have to be careful of what you say in your own home," Shelton said.

    Chris Sarkissian, a salesman at Howard's Electronics, said the new Samsung smart TVs have voice recognition, microphones embedded in the television that can be programmed to react to your voice commands.

    Allowing you to control your TV without a remote are hot sellers.

    "I guess it's convenience, like the smart TVs you can connect your TV to Internet," Sarkissian said.

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    And with voice recognition, your TV can connect you to people you've never met.

    "It could be recording all of your conversations around the house and sending them to a third party to then bombard you with advertisement," said California State Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, who serves on the state's consumer protection committee.

    He's sponsoring AB1116, legislation to prohibit the sale of TVs that can transmit or record your private conversations and send that information to a third party without your knowledge.

    "The conversations you have in your bedroom and your living room, they should be private," Gatto said.

    Regarding voice recognition, Samsung's owners manual originally issued this warning: "Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of voice recognition."

    In a blogpost clarifying its voice recognition policy Samsung now says it does not record private conversations. The company collects your voice data when you make a specific request of your smart TV or to evaluate and improve features and that voice recognition can be turned off.

    Shelton hopes that's the case, like a lot of people he occasionally talks to his TV, with no intention of anyone actually listening.

    "Having a person listen to it to derive targeted marketing, it's an invasion of privacy," Shelton said.

    In an email, Samsung spokeswoman Danielle Meister Cohen said the company applauds Gatto's efforts and appreciates the cooperation between the consumer electronic industry and privacy advocates, in crafting a balanced bill.

    Gatto's legislation has passed both houses and is on Govenor Jerry Brown's desk awaiting his signature.

    Here is the full Samsung statement:

    "At Samsung, we understand that our success depends on consumers' trust in us, and the products and services that we provide. We applaud Assemblyman Mike Gatto's commitment to consumer privacy, and we appreciate that he and his colleagues worked cooperatively with the consumer electronic industry, privacy advocates, and other important stakeholders to craft a balanced bill.”
    Protecting our consumers' privacy is one of our top priorities. Our TVs are designed with privacy in mind, and we work hard every day to safeguard Samsung users."

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