Your TV Could Be Listening to Your Intimate Conversations

Your television could be recording your most intimate moments. 

Some people might actually be into that. This is L.A., after all.

But local state Assemblyman Mike Gatto says it just isn't right. He and the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection have introduced a bill that would require "manufacturers to ensure their television’s voice-recognition feature cannot be enabled without the consumer’s knowledge or consent," according to his office.

Last week the committee voted 11-0 in favor of the proposal. But is this really a problem, you ask? We asked Gatto the same question.

Not necessarily yet is the answer. But the lawmaker argues that we need to get ahead of this Big Brother initiative before it gets all up in our bedrooms.

"Nobody would doubt the bedroom is a place where we have a tradition of privacy," he said. "You can imagine a future where they know your sex life."

Samsung's newest smart TVs take voice commands. Cool. But the sets' privacy policy spelled out some Orwellian shenanigans:

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 through your use of Voice Recognition.

Um. Sure.

Gatto explained that the "holy grail" for advertising would be to listen to your conversations and target television ads to your preferences. Say you're getting ready to buy a car. Auto spots sent to your set could be more valuable to networks than ones blasted to all viewers.

Also, advertising and marketing firms would love to hear your conversations during ads. This could help them shape the spots so that they're more effective. It would amount to an instant focus group.

While California law prevents recording someone's conversation without their consent, Gatto argues that the language in Samsung's privacy policy is an attempt to subvert that protection and obtain a sort of passive consent, terms-of-use style.

His bill seeks to put an end to it from here on out.

Parker Higgins, director of copyright activism at California's Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that while his organization has not taken an official stance on the bill, "We do think there's a real problem of recording and passing along data."

He continued:

Your smart TV has certain information about you. The smarter the devices, the more info they have about you. Generally speaking, this is a big problem. This is the next frontier for privacy issues.

Gatto's law would require consumers to have control over whether or not a smart television's voice-recognition system is activated. 

"Advertising will survive without knowing what I said to my wife during a detergent commercial," he said. "It's just too much. At some point you have to draw the line."

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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