Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hi-tech TV's: the good and the ghastly

New television technology is mind-blowing in the effects it can reproduce.  As an example, here's Sony Europe's new advertisement for its 4K Ultra HD TV.  It shows the moisture wall of bubbles actually freezing in mid-air.

That's amazing technology . . . but other advances in technology allow for a truly scary invasion of your privacy.  I don't know whether Sony's TV's do it, but those from other manufacturers certainly do, as Salon reports.

I just bought a new TV ... The only problem is that I’m now afraid to use it. You would be too — if you read through the 46-page privacy policy.

The amount of data this thing collects is staggering. It logs where, when, how and for how long you use the TV. It sets tracking cookies and beacons designed to detect “when you have viewed particular content or a particular email message.” It records “the apps you use, the websites you visit, and how you interact with content.” It ignores “do-not-track” requests as a considered matter of policy.

It also has a built-in camera — with facial recognition. The purpose is to provide “gesture control” for the TV and enable you to log in to a personalized account using your face. On the upside, the images are saved on the TV instead of uploaded to a corporate server. On the downside, the Internet connection makes the whole TV vulnerable to hackers who have demonstrated the ability to take complete control of the machine.

More troubling is the microphone. The TV boasts a “voice recognition” feature that allows viewers to control the screen with voice commands. But the service comes with a rather ominous 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.” Got that? Don’t say personal or sensitive stuff in front of the TV.

You may not be watching, but the telescreen is listening.

There's more at the link.

I'm not a TV watcher at the best of times, thanks to the abysmal quality of most programming.  Technology that invades my privacy will simply ensure that I never buy a higher-tech TV, or at least only one that allows me to (verifiably) switch off every bit of such monitoring.  If it doesn't, it's permanently off my shopping list - no matter how appealing its visual technology.



Snowdog said...

that wouldn't affect us-as we don't have cable, don't use it, and won't get it. A 'smart' tv that we just watch blue ray movies on wouldn't be able to send any data anywhere. Unless they make it so the stupid thing won't work unless it has a connection to the mothership. Which i wouldn't put past them.

Merlin said...

Peter, I'm with you on this one.

It's one thing when something free wants to "monetize" my info (Google), but it's completely different when something I've "purchased" won't work as advertized without my agreeing to allow it to spy on me. Nope, not happening.

I once returned a brand new phone and a boat-load of accessories because one of the programs on the phone had in its EULA that it was going to send in the names of all the files I used it to read. Not because it needed to, just because they could.

0007 said...

Heck, the TV set in the hotel in Beijing had a camera in the set. That was back in 2007. Took me a day or so to realize what the little round thing in the lower right hand corner of the screen was. Only when I noticed that it was the last part of the screen that faded out did I figure it out.

TheAxe said...

It may void the warranty, but maybe just unscrew the back and snip/bridge a few wires? I'm sure there will end up being forum posts somewhere on the web with how to disable the mics/cams.

Elizabeth said...

Hmm. I read that same theme in a short story in a science fiction anthology a while ago. Science fiction: the extrapolation of the possible. Mind, that particular story had the people in the know with the correct codes watching 'home movies' of the unaware buyers. Don't put one of these in the bedroom!

Rolf said...

I will NEVER buy a TV like that. Nope, not happening.

The Raving Prophet said...

If it ain't connected to any network, it can't pass anything along.

I'm not a big fan of "smart" TVs. The "app" selection is usually pretty poor compared to devices like Roku and AppleTV, the implementation is buggy, and it's yet another vector for companies to snoop.

If a TV requires a privacy notification then it's not something I wish to use.

TGreen said...

In case anyone missed it, "telescreen" is a reference to Orwell's 1984.

Javahead said...

I used to work for a major TV chip vendor, and spent my last couple of years there working on Smart TV.

Generally, the most objectionable features aren't something that the TV manufacturer really wants to put in - instead, it's in one or more of the 3rd party applications they bundle since many buyers equate "more applications" with "better".

Not a defense of the practice. But an explanation. And yes, if you're not planning on using the "Smart TV" features (because all you really wanted was the 4K LED display capability and multiple HDMI ports) just not attaching the device to a network is a good idea.

CarlS said...

"If it ain't connected to any network, it can't pass anything along . . ."

Except maybe if you already have a wireless network in your home - or in your neighbor's - and that Smart TV is wirelessly enabled.

Which most of them are.

That makes it so easy to penetrate the home wirelessly and cross-connect to activate cameras and mics. They've been doing it to phones for years. TV's, too, but no one is supposed to talk about that.

Javahead said...

@CarlS - um, no. Not unless you have a totally open network and you actually enable wireless support in the TV menu.

I haven't looked at every model out there, but every model I've worked with/on (most major makes, and many 2nd tier makes as well) requires you to set up wireless support in the menus - scan for available networks, choose which network, and - if security is enabled - give the needed password.

Even if the TV did something I've never seen in a TV - auto-seek and log onto the first unprotected network it finds, which I don't believe *any* sane TV maker would allow - all you need to do is have your wireless network password protected (which you always should anyway) and it would be defeated.

Newer models *may* auto scan for wireless by default (bad idea, that - but possible) but even mobile devices that scan by default still require you to choose the network you're connecting to.

I think that some people are often much to careless about what they share online, while others are hyper-vigilent. But *this* level of worry about smart TV in particular seems a bit over the top.