Smart TVs and Privacy

On March 7, 2017 Wikileaks revealed that US intelligence agencies are able to hijack Smart TVs to eavesdrop on persons. This relates to research done by the Institute for Information Law on smart TV and privacy which is presently not very well protected.

Kristina Irion and prof. Natali Helberger have recently published a research article on this topic called:

Smart TV and the online media sector: User privacy in view of changing market realities
In: Telecommunications Policy, 2017, (paywall)

Smart TV and online media enable precise monitoring of online media consumption, which also forms the basis for personalised recommendations. This new practice challenges EU policy in two respects. Firstly, the legality of monitoring individual media consumption and using personal data of users is primarily addressed under data protection law. Secondly, tracking of viewing behaviour and personalisation of media content can also affect individuals’ freedom to receive information, as well as the realisation of media policy objectives such as media freedom and pluralism, implications that so far are not reflected in media law and policy, or only marginally. This article addresses the increasing reliance on personal data and personalised services in the audiovisual and online media sector and queries the appropriateness of the legal status quo in light of implementation and enforcement actions in Germany and the Netherlands. The analysis concludes with a call for media policy makers and regulators to pay more attention to the issue of ‘smart surveillance’ of media users, and develops a number of concrete recommendations on how to accommodate the specific privacy concerns of media users.

In relation to this current development they have published a blog post on the Internet Policy Review website called:

The Weeping Angels are back, and they attack our privacy via smart TVs

Also, in 2016 several researchers from the Institute for Information Law wrote a report about this topic:

Smart TV and data protection, B. van Breda, N.A.N.M. van Eijk, K. Irion, T. McGonagle & S. van Voorst,
IRIS Special, European Audvisual Observatory, Strasbourg 2016.
ISBN 9789287182395.

You can read the introduction here. For more information and ability to purchase the publication, see here.

The structure of this study is built around the following questions:
– What is smart TV?
– How does smart TV compare with other forms of audiovisual media?
– What regulatory frameworks govern smart TV?
– What guidance can be found in selected country-specific case studies?
– What are the dangers associated with the collection, storage and processing of private user information by commercial parties?– How are relevant regulatory frameworks likely to evolve?

Samsung have warned owners of their smart TVs that the system’s voice recognition could actually be recording and sharing their private conversations. This “bad buzz” comes at a time when Brussels is in the process of adopting new legislation – the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – aimed at protecting us from abuse and misuse of our private data and consumer behaviour big data collected by smart equipment such as television sets. The European Audiovisual Observatory, part of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, is keeping track of these developments and has published this IRIS Special report entitled “Smart TV and data protection”.

This publication inspired an expert workshop organised in Strasbourg December 2015, which looked at “the grey areas between media regulation and data protection”.