February 12th

By: Bo Wang

Smart TVs May Redefine Privacy in Our Home



TV is getting smarter. Nowadays many smart TVs have voice activation feature. One could basically control the TV by giving oral command, without going through the pain of reaching for the remote. But the TV listens to more than what people would have expected. As Samsung is warning its customers, when the feature is on, whatever you say including “personal or other sensitive information” may be transmitted by the TV to Samsung or a third party.

Putting aside the shock that this sounds similar to George Orwell’s book 1984, there are some interesting legal issues that concern privacy law. Take the reasonable expectation of privacy test as an example, do people who own smart TVs automatically fail the first prong because they have no actual expectation of privacy when they talk before the TV?

After all, customers choose to buy these TVs. One could argue that people are not expecting to surrender their privacy in the living room because they don’t know their smart TV would “snitch”. But the counter argument could point to the Samsung warning or its privacy policy in the manual that comes with the TV and say “well, now you know it and it is your decision to turn on the voice feature.”

Should the little button on the remote that controls the voice activation also control how much privacy I have in my home? I don’t think it should. But the reasonable expectation of privacy test seems to be of no help here. It is also hard to argue physical trespass since I bought the TV. So the traditional doctrine of physical trespass doesn’t help either. I would love to see how courts will reconcile the new technology with the privacy concerns here because surely I want my privacy protected and I don’t want to reach for my remote.