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Are TV Cameras Safe?

TV cameras are making a comeback but are they more secure than before, and is your privacy protected?

The new TVs may offer video calling, fitness tracking, motion gaming, and more, but that’s only if you trust them in your living room.

Many users removed Smart TV cameras from their homes after security warnings and hacking risks emerged with Toby Lewis, Global Head of Threat Analysis at cybersecurity firm Darktrace, saying it was worrying that exactly what is done with the data collected was complex and “highly opaque”.

Privacy has continued to be a hot topic in tech, and tech giants are struggling to address users’ fears.

But brands are hopeful with several re-entering the Smart TV camera arena include Apple TV, which charged ahead with its tvOS 17, which supports FaceTime, Zoom, WebEx, and a new karaoke feature in Apple Music that uses the camera.

While Sony, Sky, and LG also launched TV cameras in 2023. Specifically, Samsung and Google partnered for video calls on Samsung TVs in 2021 and 2022, with an optional camera that continues to be updated this year.

To entice users, TV makers are focusing on optional cameras for home fitness, video calls, and motion games, but none of them have built-in cameras in their TVs yet, except Telly.

Telly’s new TVs raise privacy issues because the camera is built-in into the frame like the other problematic TVs from the past. Despite enabling new features like user recognition, eye tracking, and 3D effects, they should come with a warning about the potential hacking and lack of privacy.

Gaming with these types of TVs could transform the experience to not needing controllers, which is what the startup Nex is developing. The San Francisco-based company is working on motion games that work with TV cameras from Sony, Sky, and Telly.

Motion games were previously popular with the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Kinect, but they had limitations and lost appeal, which is the market Nex is working to reinvigorate.

However, a major hurdle for these manufactures is privacy. Already and without cameras, data from Smart TVs has become a two-way mirror permitting users to be observed by a network of advertisers and data brokers.

“The purpose of this is to gather as much information as possible about your behaviour, interests, preferences and demographics so it can be monetised, mainly through targeted advertising,” says Rowenna Fielding, director of data protection consultancy Miss IG Geek.

And with cameras, even more personal information is at risk.

Sceptics of the TVs suggest using a camera to cover the Smart TV camera when not in use, and they also recommended using strong passwords and checking privacy settings so that users can opt out of an optional collection of data.

However, a government official suggests that the process is ongoing because governments are working with the industry to protect users of TV cameras privacy.

“We are working with the industry and other stakeholders to develop a code of practice for smart TV cameras that will set out the minimum standards for data protection and consumer rights. We want to ensure that smart TV cameras are safe and secure, and that consumers have clear and easy options to manage their privacy preferences,” said Minister for Home Affairs, Karen Andrews.

Critics suggest that users should be more aware and selective of who they trust with their data and to weigh the pros and cons of having a TV camera at all until the industry can guarantee privacy protection.

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