Your TV Isn't the Only Thing Spying on You

  • 18 February 2015
  • NormanL
HDTV spying on you

When the story broke that certain Sansung television sets were eavesdropping on their owners -- a polite way of saying the sets were spying -- it raised some alarms and forced Samsung to rewrite its privacy policy. But if you think hi-tech TVs are the only things capable of gathering your private information and sharing it with others, think again:

Our smartphones and computers, of course, listen to us when we're making audio and video calls. But the microphones are always there, and there are ways a hacker, government, or clever company can turn those microphones on without our knowledge. Sometimes we turn them on ourselves. If we have an iPhone, the voice-processing system Siri listens to us, but only when we push the iPhone's button. Like Samsung, iPhones with the "Hey Siri" feature enabled listen all the time. So do Android devices with the "OK google">Google" feature enabled, and so does an Amazon voice-activated system called Echo. Facebook has the ability to turn your smartphone's microphone on when you're using the app.

Even if you don't speak, our computers are paying attention. Gmail "listens" to everything you write, and shows you advertising based on it. It might feel as if you're never alone. Facebook does the same with everything you write on that platform, and even listens to the things you type but don't post. Skype doesn't listen -- we think -- but as Der Spiegel notes, data from the service "has been accessible to the NSA's snoops" since 2011.

But what if you don't have a smartphone or Skype or the latest Facebook app. You're safe from unwanted instrustions then, aren't you? Not necessarily:

Newer cars contain computers that record speed, steering wheel position, pedal pressure, even tire pressure --- and insurance companies want to listen. And, of course, your cell phone records your precise location at all times you have it on -- and possibly even when you turn it off. If you have a smart thermostat, it records your house's temperature, humidity, ambient light and any nearby movement. Any fitness tracker you're wearing records your movements and some vital signs; so do many computerized medical devices. Add security cameras and recorders, drones and other surveillance airplanes, and we're being watched, tracked, measured and listened to almost all the time.

So for a lot of people, there really is nowhere to hide. And this is a very big problem:

We need to regulate the listening: both what is being collected and how it's being used. But that won't happen until we know the full extent of surveillance: who's listening and what they're doing with it.

And even if we get that complete list, there is still the question of what anyone will do about it.  What do you think? Leave your ideas in the comments below.

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