Privacy Perils: Is Your Smart TV Too Smart?

December 13, 2019
Firm Publication

If you are one of the consumers who purchased a smart TV on Black Friday or Cyber Monday or if you’re lucky enough to receive one as a gift this holiday season, the FBI has a warning for you. In a pre-holiday message to consumers, a FBI field office is cautioning that smart TVs equipped with internet streaming, microphones for voice-commands and facial recognition capabilities may be vulnerable to intrusion by malicious cyber actors. “At the low end of the risk spectrum, they can change channels, play with the volume, and show your kids inappropriate videos,” the FBI warning states. “In a worst case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you.”

But before you go rushing to read the fine print of your retailer’s return policy, take a breath. Despite the extreme nature of the FBI’s warning, your risk is probably low, especially if you educate yourself on your device’s security settings and pay attention to all aspects of your home’s network security, including the following:

  • Know and understand what features your smart TV has and how to control those features. This can be accomplished with a basic internet search with your model number and the words “microphone,” “camera,” and “privacy.”
  • Make sure your Wi-Fi router uses strong security and always set your own password instead of relying on the factory settings.
  • Keep that router up-to-date with the latest firmware.
  • Read and make sure you understand your smart TV’s various user agreements. If there’s an auto-update feature for its firmware, turn it on. If there isn’t, check for updates monthly.
  • If your smart TV happens to have a camera, and you cannot turn the camera off, consider using a physical cover (i.e. black tape) in front of the lens when it’s not in use.
  • Check the privacy policy for the TV manufacturer and the streaming services you use. Confirm what data they collect, how they store that data, and what they do with it.

Finally, you always have the simple option of disabling your smart TV’s internet connection entirely by unplugging it from your network. Doing so will turn it into just a regular TV, but given how inexpensive third-party media streaming devices like Roku and Amazon Fire TV are, you can add that smart TV functionality back in a product that might have better security.

Privacy Perils imageCheck out our series, Privacy Perils, to learn what steps you can take to guard your personal and company data. For more information about this topic and other cyber security concerns, please contact Bob Brewer, Tony McFarland, Elizabeth Warren or a member of our Privacy & Data Security team.