Privacy Victory: Television Manufacturer to Pay $2.2M in Damages

The wave of the future gadgets might once have been the domain of EPCOT Center and “The Jetsons,” but many of those what-if devices are now a reality. More than that, many of them are now in our homes, our pockets, and our everyday lives.

A lot of our newfangled technology is “smart” or connected, meaning it has functions that require internet access. It might be storing your favorite TV shows in “the cloud,” or connecting your hallway lamp to the internet so that it knows to come on when it senses you—or rather, your smartphone since it’s always with you—coming within range. Either way, for most of our favorites new devices to work, we’ve been forced to share a little bit of our privacy.

One such device is the Amazon Echo. This home-based virtual assistant has a number of competitors on the market already, but recent information about how these convenience-keepers work has made people question the privacy we take for granted. Basically, all of these devices are “always on” and listening for their wake words, or names, to be called. If Amazon’s device hears one of three names you can choose at setup, it begins recording the interaction for customization purposes and better functionality. While the need to listen in and record has some concerned consumers rethinking their privacy, this feature is clearly stated by the developer and includes instructions for deleting the recordings whenever you like.

Another device manufacturer has come under fire for recording and storing consumers’ information, but this time it was without their knowledge or permission. A home electronics manufacturer has been ordered to pay more than $2 million to the Federal Trade Commission and the State of New Jersey because it let consumers know that the television could make suggestions for content to watch, but didn’t disclose that the reason the TV knew what you might like is because your viewing habits were being monitored. Not only that, the company must change its disclosure notice to let customers know that this feature requires access to some personal information.

While it might seem like this is the stuff of conspiracy theorists, the hard truth is that our privacy is more important than ever before. IoT-connected gadgets are in our homes, our schools, even inside our bodies thanks to medical advances. Without a clear understanding of our rights and full disclosure from the manufacturers, it’s hard to know when we’re giving up a little bit of our personal security. Keeping companies accountable for disclosure is an important step in keeping ourselves safe.


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