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Jeff Kagan: Your TV is Watching You…

In our interconnected world, the television watches back...
Equities columnist Jeff Kagan is a telecom, technology and wireless analyst and consultant. He covers 5G, AI, IoT, the metaverse, autonomous driving, healthcare, telehealth, pay TV and more. Follow him at and on Twitter @jeffkagan and LinkedIn.
Equities columnist Jeff Kagan is a telecom, technology and wireless analyst and consultant. He covers 5G, AI, IoT, the metaverse, autonomous driving, healthcare, telehealth, pay TV and more. Follow him at and on Twitter @jeffkagan and LinkedIn.

Via Giphy

Did you know that your TV is watching you?

In the good ole days, we watched TV. No one knew what we were watching as we sat there privately with our remote in hand, happily channel surfing to our heart’s content. Today, things are different. Privacy is history. Today, with modern technology and connectivity, our TV is watching us.

Companies love this… customers don’t. However, customers don’t seem to have any power or control, so companies keep going further and further. It’s not that watching our behavior is without benefit to us. There is benefit. The problem comes when we lose our privacy to get this benefit. And we do.

If your TV is connected to the internet or the cable television network, your television is tracking you. It can be reporting data to the TV manufacturer, the cable television provider, the internet service provider and assorted other companies they sell your info to.

Why Smart TV is Watching You

Yesterday, the set-top converter boxes simply delivered TV to our home. They allowed the signal to be converted to TV shows. However, over the years, the technology became more advanced, and today they can do much more. Today, those set-top boxes watch everything we do.

Going forward, technology will have cameras. This is an invasion of privacy on an entirely different and disturbing level. We’ve lost privacy… period. And it’s only getting worse.

Today the TV industry watches us, but the industry says they track us to better serve us. There is truth to that, but that is only part of the story. Tracking what we watch and what we do, does help TV set makers and networks know what we like and help us find more of it.

However, it also creates a valuable database which makes it easier for them and the companies they do business with to market to us. They sell this information to marketers. Sharing information about us breaks the trust consumers have placed in the companies they do business with. That’s one problem. Knowing too much about us is another problem.

Plenty of Benefit and Risk from TV, AI, IoT, Cloud and More

Think of it like the ads on your favorite search engine like Google (GOOG). You know when you search for something online then suddenly you are bombarded by ads for that exact product? This is both good and bad. Good, because it lets sellers offer us something we may be looking for. Bad if we were just looking and are not interested in being peppered with ads.

Now, just think what would happen when you combine the power of say, the IBM (IBM) Watson AI goliath with marketing. Maybe another company will introduce a Watson-like AI marketing machine. You see the risk and the potential for even more loss of privacy and abuse. So there is plenty of benefit from AI, but there is also plenty of risk.

Companies should show respect to users rather than just roll them over. Users should have control over what they want to see more or less of. Unfortunately, that won’t happen any time soon. Companies don’t want to give users control… even to protect their own privacy. We have seen this issue raise its ugly head, with stories from cable TV companies, and now from TV makers.

Vizio Paid $2.5 Million To Settle Court Costs on Privacy Issues

In many cases, users don’t even realize their privacy has been compromised. Recently, TV maker Vizio agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle court charges that it collected data on what their viewers watched on eleven million of its TV sets, according to news stories. They then sold the data to marketers without permission. Collecting information is bad enough. Using information is worse. Selling information to marketers is even worse still. And all without getting permission or even notifying the customer.

Some companies simply don’t take privacy concerns seriously. Many do disclose this to users, but do so in the long “Terms of Service” page, which hardly anyone reads. They should post this kind of information up top, where users can quickly review it. They don’t.

The Federal Trade Commission says Vizio started making smart TV’s in February 2014, which on an ongoing basis read everything you did on your TV, including cable television, video, broadband and it even scanned set top converter boxes, over the air, streaming and DVD’s.

It seems Vizio followed us closely… too closely. They both used this information for their own purposes and they sold it to marketers. And without our permission. That crossed over every line in the book.

Vizio is Not Alone in Invasion of Privacy

The problem is, Vizio is not alone. More and more companies are invading our privacy. Some with and some without permission. Either way, our personal and private lives are being ripped open, sold and displayed in public.

When will companies realize privacy is sacred? When will companies treat users with respect? Companies which take our privacy from us are not doing us any favors. That’s why there are privacy laws in the medical community. We should have that kind of protection from abuse in the technology industry as well.

The technology industry should play their cards well. If they don’t take care of the customer and protect privacy, sooner or later the government will come sweeping in to protect users. And when they do, you know they will go way too far and throw a cold blanket over all this incredible growth we have all experienced over the last ten or twenty years.

So, protecting customer’s privacy is in the company’s best interest, the same as it is in the users best interest. Will the business world understand this before it’s too late?

Jeff Kagan is an columnist. Kagan is a Wireless Analyst, Telecom Analyst, Industry Analyst, speaker and consultant. He follows wireless, wire line, telecom, Internet, cable TV, IPTV, Cloud, Mobile Pay, FinTech and communications technology. Email him at [email protected] His web site is Follow him on Twitter @jeffkagan

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