Examining the Privacy Implications of Smart TVs

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Smart TV

The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) filed its report, Always On: Privacy Implications of Microphone-Enabled Devices, with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in response to the Commission’s request for public comments regarding the privacy implications of Smart TVs. On December 7, 2016, the FTC will be holding a Smart TV Workshop to explore the intricacies of tracking technologies and best practices for addressing consumer privacy on entertainment systems.

At FPF, we recognize that as the next generation of Smart TVs enters the market, there are increasing concerns about voice privacy and the role of speech recognition in home appliances. In our report, we examine these privacy questions and identify the emerging best practices of “always on” devices, including Smart TVs. Key questions include:

  • Whether data processing and storage occurs locally or externally (i.e., cloud-based);
  • Whether the device arrives with audio recording functionality pre-enabled;
  • Whether the device provides visual cues that indicate when it is transmitting information; and
  • Whether consumers are given the ability to access and delete stored audio files.

Despite the fact that many TVs and other devices dubbed “always on” are not in fact “always listening,” microphones and voice data retain unique social and legal significance that should be taken into consideration in discussions of Smart TVs and privacy.