ThoughtStorms Wiki

Context: AlwaysOnPanopticon, ConspiracyTheories

Quora Answer : Has anyone heard the rumor that your TV can be used to spy on you?

Apr 21, 2014

Update 2017 :

The proof is in : WikiLeaks publishes 'biggest ever leak of secret CIA documents'

Previously (2014) :

Older TVs probably not. Unless someone explicitly hacked them to put a hidden camera, or as Mihai Gheza points out, to turn the speaker into a mic. The reason this is unlikely to be in general use before the internet is that :

a) hobbyists, independent repairmen etc. would notice the extra hardware hacks,

b) a TV that watched you, using old-style technology, would need a back-channel to send what it was seeing to whoever wanted to surveille you. You'd notice if it was occupying your phone line or there was a suspicious new wire running around your house, or the TV was consuming huge amounts of power to send analogue TV signals wirelessly back to GCHQ or the NSA headquarters.

Since the ubiquitous internet, it all becomes far more plausible. Digital TVs are basically computers. And computers can be made to do whatever the person who puts the software into them likes. Many smart-TVs or set-top boxes or games consoles come with cameras so people can use things like Skype. And there was a huge outcry about the latest XBox which originally wanted to be always connected to the internet so Microsoft could monitor what you were playing (for "DRM purposes", allegedly). Not sure if that went through. But the bottom line is that any computer with a camera (including any modern TV ecosystem / "internet of things" in your home) only needs to have the right software added, to turn it into a genuine Orwellian 1984-style surveillance device.

What you're describing USED TO BE paranoid fantasy. After Snowden's revelations in 2013, the cold rational thing to assume is that even if your TV isn't currently streaming your life back to the spook servers, that is their longer term aspiration. And there are probably people working to make it happen.

So, yes, you should start taking steps to protect yourself. The key is that you shouldn't allow computers into your life (including entertainment devices) for which you don't have a sufficient degree of control over, and trust in, the software.

That means, buy general purpose computers and tablets and don't buy "appliances" which don't let you install the software you want.

At the very least, use Android in an unlocked and rooted version. Ideally use a genuine free-software operating system. (If in doubt, something like Debian for computers. I'm not sure what the best tablet / TV free OSes are at the moment but there are people and projects working on them.)

Even in America, with its impressive Constitution, it's clear that the government and courts are not able or willing to protect your privacy from an out-of-control military-intelligence-industrial complex. In 2014, the only people on earth who DO care about your privacy and are willing to help you keep control of it, are the various hacker movements (free-software, cypherpunks etc.). Support them, use their software, follow their advice, GIVE MONEY to some of their projects, find out more about the EFF, the Free-Software Foundation, Wikileaks etc. and what they are really doing.

Because everyone else just wants a piece of you for their own purposes. Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft etc. etc. are building increasingly intrusive surveillance technologies for their own commercial interest. Watch to see Google working on technologies which will instantly scan and model the contents of any room you are in, and (almost certainly) will start recognising the STUFF in it. For Google a surveillance TV may be about "hey! Dave, we notice your sofa is getting a bit threadbare, why not buy a new one from Sofa Warehouse." But when the government comes knocking - as Marissa Mayer told Mike Arrington last year ( - CEOs aren't going to risk incarceration to defend your privacy.