KSL Investigates: Outsmarting your smart TV

Feb 11, 2018, 11:15 AM | Updated: Feb 7, 2023, 11:21 am

Smart TVs offer a host of conveniences, but those conveniences come at a significant cost to privac...

Smart TVs offer a host of conveniences, but those conveniences come at a significant cost to privacy.

SALT LAKE CITY — Smart TVs offer a host of conveniences, but those conveniences come at a significant cost to privacy.

Millions of sets have been sold and many come armed with microphones and cameras to hear and see their users. The features are designed to make TVs more interactive. But they also make it easier for manufacturers to track consumer habits.

The KSL Investigators asked two experts, KSL engineer Shawn Callaway and tech expert Sarah Kimmel, a simple question: If someone buys a smart TV, is there a way to keep companies from collecting information on them?

“We’re in a world now where everything is online, all the data is being collected, we’ve already given up a lot of our privacy,” Kimmel said.

For example, if a consumer watches “Will & Grace” every Thursday night, the TV will recognize the program. It sends what they’re watching to the manufacturer and the manufacturer can sell that information to advertisers to target that smart TV with tailored ads.

A new article from Consumer Reports said millions of smart TVs can be crudely hacked. Researchers found someone can mess with the volume, change the channel, or pull up offensive content from the Internet anywhere in the world. However, Consumer Reports said smart TV owners’ personal information could not be gleaned from these hacks. Manufacturer Roku said the findings were wrong.

The KSL Investigators found the fix for many of these spy features, but they were buried in fine print. If a consumer doesn’t want to be tracked, they need to pick which features on the smart TV are active. Turning off the microphone will keep the TV from listening to you. Turning off the camera will keep it from detecting when you’re in the room. There’s an even simpler way to protect your privacy.

“If you want to make a smart TV dumb, the best thing to do is not to connect it to a network, either WiFi or wired,” Callaway said.

But there’s a trade-off. Disconnecting the Internet means consumers won’t get any of the features like Netflix, Hulu or YouTube.

“You have to choose whether you want privacy or functionality. You can never have 100 percent of both,” Callaway said.

TV maker Vizio paid $2.2 million in 2017 to settle charges from the Federal Trade Commission that it was not clearly telling consumers how it was collecting users’ data and what it was doing with it.

As a result, TV makers now explain their product’s tracking features and ways to disable the features in the paperwork that comes with a new TV.

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KSL Investigates: Outsmarting your smart TV