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Former CIA agent turned whistleblower Edward Snowden has revealed that even our televisions are now fully capable of invading our privacy and watching us in our own homes.
After revealing in 2013 that governments around the world in collusion with multinational telecommunication companies have been collecting data on the public, Snowden’s latest tweet is even more shocking.
On February 26th, 2017 Snowden tweeted: ‘Who watches the watchers? Your TV.’
With the widespread distribution of smart TVs, companies can now not only collect data on what we watch but in fact, can watch and listen to us in our own homes through our televisions. The recently launched TVision Insights technology allows companies to monitor whether an audience is engaged with what is on their screens, allowing analysis of what advertisements are effective and what emotional response the watcher is eliciting to a particular TV show.
Through the use of Microsoft Kinect devices, similar to those used with Xbox gaming systems, fitted to the top of television sets, TVision monitors where the viewer’s eyes are focused, their facial expressions and whether they appear engaged and happy with what thy are watching.
The company was founded by Sloan management school at MIT graduate Dan Schiffman and a classmate and is still in the early stages of development. For the time being this technology is being tested voluntarily on 7,500 people in the Boston, Chicago, and Dallas-Fort Worth areas of the country, with wider studies expected in the future.
Given the government’s recent history of spying on its people and recording vast amounts of data, however, there are well-founded concerns over how this technology may be used in the future.
For example, if TVisions were to work with advertising companies and television manufacturers there could soon be technology present in every new television set sold capable of watching us in our own homes.
Samsung admitted two years ago that their smart TVs were capable of recording conversations from out living rooms, even going so far as to issue a statement on the matter:
“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.”
There are also concerns regarding just how safe this kind of information is. Even with a voluntary subscription to a monitoring service like TVisions in the future, perhaps in exchange for lowered cable bills, information could then be stolen, sold onto third parties or collected surreptitiously by the government.
Vizio did the very same thing in recording data about people and selling it to third parties, and was fined a paltry $2.2 million dollars. Considering that they had sold 11 million television sets by this point and had been collecting data for two years, this hardly seems like a deterrent on the part of the government, who similarly didn’t force them to reveal which companies they had sold data to either.