Have You Read the Privacy Warnings Lately?


Reading the privacy warnings on products we buy is rarely something we even consider. Why is that, you think? I know they’re long-winded and hard to read. I get it. I hate reading them too, but I recently read a story that has changed my mind. From now on, I will read the privacy statement that comes with anything and everything from a new cell phone to a new app for it. Most companies don’t call these warnings — they call them “privacy policies” or “privacy statements.” Most of the time, they are all or nothing. If you don’t accept, you don’t get to use the product.

Mobile App Privacy Statements

I’m guessing that most of my readers that own cell phones and have third party apps on them didn’t pay attention to the information they were presented with when asked if they really wanted to install the app. I know I paid very little attention to them myself.

Next time you download an app for your mobile device, do yourself a favor and pay attention to the information presented during the download and install process. You’ll be surprised and possibly frightened at the permissions the apps want you to grant them.

For example, I installed a pool game on my Samsung Galaxy tablet. Check the image above and see what it required me to give the app access to. I can understand in-app purchases. But why would a pool game require information regarding my identity, my Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, or my images and device ID and call info? I can’t think of any reason. Almost every app out there, no matter what it does, asks for this information.

Smart TV Privacy Warnings/Privacy Policies Are Even Worse

The way I see it, the makers of smart TVs need to stop calling these policies “privacy policies” and start calling them “lack of privacy warnings” or “You no longer have any privacy statements.” Even more, most of the apps loaded on to the TV have their own privacy policies that you have to accept before using. Let’s take a look at a sample privacy policy as provided by Samsung.

The first thing we see is that the TV is collecting data on where you live, your zip code, and then sending this information to the company. It’s said that they do this so as to provide customized content listings for you area. Isn’t that what the Cable or Satellite providers’ TV listings channels are for?

Next we’re told that the TV will collect and send to Samsung information regarding the shows you watch, the content you stream, what you buy, and more. According to the policy this information is collected from Samsung applications on the TV, and on other devices. If I’m reading that correctly, it means that if I owned this TV, it would even collect information about what I’m doing on my tablet and my phone.

Now the Terrifying Stuff

Smart TVs let you search for shows and stuff using a Google-like search feature. Every time you use the search feature, the search terms you used are collated and sent to Samsung and probably third parties. If you visit websites that use cookies, by using the TV, you agree to allow Samsung to collect the information contained in those cookies. It also stores and sends information regarding your IP address, hardware and software information. And what pages you browse through.

Hidden deep inside the privacy policy, but apparently separate, with a separate accept or deny option, is the fact that if you allow it, the TV will also collect information regarding the programming and network choices you make. Supposedly that information isn’t going to be used to sell you stuff, but to better tailor your viewing experience. Sounds innocuous, huh? It also states that even if you opt out of the “viewing recommendations” this information will still be collected and sent.

This Stuff Is Just Nefarious

There are also Smart TVs that set small programs called “beacons.” These beacons notify the company when particular content has been watched. It can also let the company know when you’ve opened an email. Most websites allow users the option for “do not track.” As I mentioned above, it is a stated policy that this request will usually be completely ignored by the TV.

Most Smart TVs also have video cameras built in. These are advertised as being used for apps like Skype and other messaging apps for face-to-face chats. It’s also mentioned that you can log in to your TV (Yes, I said log in to your TV.) using facial recognition. The cool thing is you can create a TV account for Junior and his friends and your Playboy subscription won’t be visible to him. The downside is that the pictures are stored in your TV, which can be hacked. There’s also the very good possibility that the camera can be activated without your knowledge or consent.

Want something even scarier? Most of these devices also have microphones which allow for voice recognition, voice chats, and spoken commands. This statement in one of the privacy warnings that I read absolutely terrifies me based upon its implications: Please be advised that if what you say to the TV contains personal or sensitive information, that information will be collected and sent to a third party, as well as the commands spoken.

Supposedly these two features must be activated by pressing buttons on the remote. Supposedly. However, who’s to say that this is true? It must also be remembered that since these devices are connected to the Internet, they can be hacked. As it stands right now, we consumers have two choices: Keep up with technology and open ourselves to a loss of privacy, or lose access to all the bells of whistles of the device.

Photo Credit: Vernieman