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article imageWarning: Your Smart TV could be spying on you

By Tim Sandle     Mar 27, 2017 in Technology
As the Internet of Things advances and more and more items become connected data security and privacy become hotly debated topics. One area of concern is with the growing prevalence of smart television sets.
The issues of privacy and connected television sets has become the research topic at the University of Amsterdam, especially in relation to a new research project run by Kristina Irion and Natali Helberger. The focus is the ability smart televisions to track users' online and offline behavior and to pass on this private information to the television set company or to third parties.
Such information includes the users' social background, television watching habits and viewing preferences. Such information can be used by advertisers to direct commercial mailings, for example. Because of the lack of regulation relating to smart televisions, the Dutch research group raises concerns about how the use of such information affects users' rights to free speech and unobstructed access to information.
Many smart televisions come with a feature called Automatic Content Recognition. This is software installed on the television that captures a selection of on-screen pixels. These pixels are automatically matched with a database of commercial content that allows the television set manufacturer to determine what the user has been watching.
The researchers flag a number of issues of concern, which relate to real-life cases. These include evidence that smart televisions have transmitted viewing information back to manufacturers; evidence that private conversations have been recorded; and evidence that advertising (through direct mail and email) has been sent to people based on the types of programs they watch.
The researchers are calling for the subject to be discussed by politician’s and controls put in place to reduce access to personal information. They add that where there is a need for some data to be collected (which requires a case to be made), this should be regulated and passing on information to third parties should be banned. They suggest such regulation should be at the countrywide or supranational level (such as across the U.S. or European Union).
Expanding in these points, Kristina Irion says in a research note: “Leaving the matter to data protection law alone would therefore not acknowledge the intrinsic link between media consumption and the freedom to receive information, which is a tenet of the fundamental right to freedom of expression.”
The discussion into consumer privacy has been published as a paper in the journal Telecommunications Policy. The research is titled “Smart TV and the online media sector: User privacy in view of changing market realities.”
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