Remember the good old days, when the only thing you had to worry about were some popups and perhaps one or two online-trackers? Nowadays – with the Internet of Things and all the connected devices everyone has in their home everything could be a spy – including your TV.
The recent New York Times article about Samba TV, a tool that’s included in many smart TV brands and not only tracks what you’re watching but also what other smart devices you have in your network, is just the latest in what seems a never ending stream of stories.
It’s nothing new, but it’s hard to understand
That TVs are spying on us is nothing new; it has been happening for half a decade – and it’s probably not going away either. If you have any doubts just take a quick look at the top 3 occurrences from recent years:
The well-known company that makes affordable but high-quality TV sets was tracking user data and then selling them off to the highest bidder – without the user’s consent! In the end they had to pay a fine of $2,2 million dollar and delete all data collected prior to March 1, 2016. Nonetheless, the damage was done.
Same as Vizio LG was spying on their users big time – just years earlier than the competitor. Their TVs not only recorded what channels were watched and the names of media files that were streamed over the network, they also did so when you explicitly turned the setting off!
Things are getting more complicated
TV’s are just the tip of the iceberg though. In the end almost every smart device out there will probably try and get some piece of your data-pie. As Avira’s CEO Travis Witteveen noted: “My network is full of data traffic. Even when I am not at home and “nothing” is actually happening, my network is alive and active. There are firmware updates at least once every week, which need to be applied for “security related fixes” to a device. There are application updates every day. There is traffic going to places and services, which I never remembered authorizing. I have no clue what the contents are, which are being shared, about me and my family, over the network. As the CEO of Avira, I consider myself to be security/privacy aware, yet I have to admit: this new world of IoT is far too complicated in order for me to manage and understand it all without help.”
Right now help is hard to find, but luckily you are not without options:
- Know what devices are on your network: To get things under control take a good look at what kind of devices you allow in your home network. Make a note of unfamiliar ones and try to figure out what they are and why they have access. Remove them if necessary.
- Close those ports: Open ports can pose a security issue since cybercriminals could use them to target devices with security issues in their software. Close them, if possible.
- Keep track of your privacy settings: Make sure you go through your devices’ privacy settings thoroughly and only allow data sharing when you are really comfortable with it.
While those are all perfectly fine things to do, they are time consuming, not always very intuitive, and they don’t cover every aspect of your digital life. Luckily there are programs and tools that can help you with this task, including the upcoming Avira SafeThings. Whatever you choose to do: make sure to be comfortable with the devices in your home and their privacy setting.