A person holding a remote with a smart TV in the background.

Photo credit: Vernon Chan at Flickr Creative Commons.

Smart TVs are growing in popularity and availability, but with that comes the risk of privacy violations. There are already recorded instances of TVs accidentally eavesdropping on conversations and of TVs transmitting viewing information to manufacturers. And while collecting data on what shows and movies people watch is certainly valuable to media companies, it’s wrong from an ethical standpoint. Users don’t deserve to have this information collected without their explicit permission.

But believe it or not, this type of spying goes on more often than you think. According to a study from the University of Amsterdam, the European Union, for example, is not doing enough to protect users’ privacy. Researchers point out that EU laws don’t quite converge on this point, with privacy and media laws not keeping up with changing technology. They also argued that, in light of these failures, manufacturers need to step up and begin to address such problems themselves.

Any kind of law designed to protect user privacy from technology itself will require action on the part of manufacturers and media companies to be properly implemented. But if that action comes before the laws, and is something that these companies think about as they’re developing new technology, it will be easier to implement.

Smart TVs are new and exciting, but like many technologies, we use them without fully understanding their capabilities. All technology brings forth risks, but we often get so caught up in the “cool” factor that we overlook privacy concerns.

It’s not likely that manufacturers sat down and planned to make their TVs spy on people (not initially anyway) but as that capability became more possible, it has been put to use. But customers are savvy, and they’re going to learn to care more about their privacy, and that’s going to make it worthwhile for companies to care about it, too.