Big TV will be watching YOU

Somebody knows what you watched last summer. And wants to know what else you did while you were watching. And no, it’s not just the NSA.

You're TV is not watching you - yet.

You’re TV is not watching you – yet. Image: TheStichEmporium

This November, LG had to admit it: their Smart TVs were getting a bit too clever for their own good. LG collected the viewing habits of LG users and transmitted them to a LG server. After some back and forth, the company updated the software: users can now at least opt out of the TV snitch. Still, LG’s idea of privacy comes straight out of the Intelligence Handbook for boundless Data Hoarding. As states the updated Terms of Services.

Information such as channel, TV platform, broadcast source, etc. that is collected by certain LG Smart TVs is not personal but viewing information.

No, it’s nothing personal. Graham Cluley wraps it nicely up – and dug up a LG corporate video on the reasoning behind: No, it’s nothing personal. LG just wanted to build a smart ad platform.

Seems like TV is finally arriving in the 21st century, where privacy is a privilege for the 1% like Oracle-billionaire Larry Ellison (who is totally pro NSA, which just coincidentally happens to be an Oracle-customer).

Your old TV was a really reliable stupid box. You clicked, and it displayed what was currently broadcasted, if you liked it or not.
So what about your new TV? LG’s downfall has several dimensions:
1. A not-working opt out may just be a technicality. But  we’re coming to that again.
2. The service might have interesting potential: data like this can give back to the consumer. And I’m not talking really nicely well targeted advertising. It’s more abut recommendation services and the likes. But, please: do it as an opt-in. Communicate. Everything else is really creepy. Especially coming from a TV set. Because, and that’s
3. your TV cannot be a spy. Because since several decades it’s living in your living room. As a kid, when your parents were out,you watched strictly forbidden PG-whatever stuff on it. It never betrayed you. As an adult, you pretend to not watch at all, and if you do, just lots of news and documentaries. The ratings are coming from somewhere else. Your TV is an invited house guest, sometimes a bit noisy, but never really overstaying it’s welcome.

The new line of supposedly smart TVs is going to change that. And it’s not just LG’s boxes are busily watching your viewing habits. Smart TVs are computers built by people who usually build other stuff. Computers are powerful tools. But you have to take care of them, otherwise they tend to become a bit dangerous. Cyber-criminals or their government counterparts with the license to kill your operating system are not really reluctant to take advantage of every security issue your hardware might have.
And they already the TV set as a new entry point into the former privacy of your home.

Vulnerabilities in the underlying operating system and applications on Samsung SmartTVs could be used to steal sensitive information on the device owner, or even spy on the television’s surroundings using an integrated webcam, reports the security ledger from the BlackHat briefings conference.

One problem: you do not have offer firmware updates for fridges or patch a security hole in a hair dryer. Or for feature phones. Look at how the Android ecosystem is handling the update issue.

4 out of 16 devices stopped getting any updates less than a year after release.

Houston, we have a problem.
Because, at the same time, those formerly confidential and discrete house guests become ore and more interested in more and more aspects of your daily life. Just look at United States Patent Application: 0120278904, filed by Microsoft:

A content presentation system and method allowing content providers to regulate the presentation of content on a per-user-view basis. Content is distributed an associated license option on the number of individual consumers or viewers allowed to consume the content. Consumers are presented with a content selection and a choice of licenses allowing consumption of the content. The users consuming the content on a display device are monitored so that if the number of user-views licensed is exceeded, remedial action may be taken.

Meaning: your future TV set will not just be able to count how many people are watching. It will match this number with a license. If your family gets too large, remedial action may be taken. Like a blackout? Immediate charges of the Public Viewing Rate on your credit card? A cease and desist letter from the general counsel of the MPAA?

To claim that nobody was watching anyway and you just left the set running will not help you a bit. US-network provider Verizon has the matching Patent Application: 20120304206:

… a media content presentation system presenting a media content program comprising an advertisement break, detecting an ambient action performed by a user during the presentation of the media content program, selecting an advertisement associated with the detected ambient action, and presenting the selected advertisement during the advertisement break. 

The tell-tale patent applications: somebody wants to really join you in your living room.

The tell-tale patent applications: somebody wants to really join you in your living room.

Meaning: your TV set will not just watch you watching TV and show you some ads based upon what you’re doing while you were watching. It will try to find out if you were eating, exercising, laughing, reading, sleeping, talking, singing, humming, cleaning, and playing a musical instrument.  Or maybe cuddling, fighting, participating in a game or sporting event, and talking. It will be able to identify you, so that the parental control feature can be effective. But as there should be already a gesture recognition technology, a profile recognition technology, a facial recognition technology, and a voice recognition technology up and running, you could tailor the ads to the detected profile. But hey, there’s more: with all this stuff in place, the media content presentation system will be able to determine a mood of the user in accordance with the detected ambient action; wherein the selecting of the advertisement comprises selecting the advertisement based on the determined mood of the user. And of course the formerly deaf stupid box will able to detect at least one word spoken by the user; and the selected advertisement is associated with the at least one word spoken by the user. 

So better be careful whom you invite to stay in your future home. Looks can deceive, as we learned from the 2010 bust of the Russian espionage ring in the US, featuring the best looking female Russian spy since James Bond took on the forces of evil. Or, as her 15-year-old neighbor so nicely stated:  They couldn’t have been spies. Look what she did with the hydrangeas.
With TV it might sound a bit different.
It couldn’t have been a spy. We’re living together since I was born and it never snitched on me.

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