“Smart” TVs aren’t so smart about your privacy: First findings of Consumer 
Reports’ collaborative research with RDR and other partners

https://rankingdigitalrights.org/2018/02/12/smart-tvs-arent-smart-privacy-first-findings-consumer-reports-collaborative-research-rdr-partners/

As everyday consumer appliances and devices like televisions are increasingly 
connected to the internet, concerns about privacy and security are mounting. 
Adding to growing consumer anxiety about the implications of bringing 
internet-connected appliances into our homes, on February 7th Consumer Reports 
reported that certain TV models sold by Samsung and TCL are vulnerable to 
hackers. The assessment, conducted in collaboration with Ranking Digital Rights 
(RDR) and Disconnect—a company that makes digital tools for preventing privacy 
invasions—revealed that security vulnerabilities in two of the five TV brands 
tested, Samsung and TCL, could allow a hacker to remotely take control of the 
TV.

Researchers also found that all “smart” or internet-connected TVs examined 
collect large amounts of information, which they send back to the TV 
manufacturers, software providers, and  various third parties that deliver 
content, process payments and warranty claims, and provide marketing services. 
And yet, users do not always have the ability to control or minimize such data 
collection without losing the features of their TV that make them “smart” in 
the first place, and that enable streaming or searching for content on various 
apps such as Netflix and YouTube.  

These unsettling findings are the first published results of an ongoing 
collaborative research and testing project that uses the Digital Standard to 
evaluate internet-connected products that make up what is often called the 
“internet of things.” The Standard is an essential list of privacy and security 
criteria to assess smart devices, services and apps, developed in partnership 
with leading privacy, security, and human rights organizations, including 
Ranking Digital Rights. The goal is to encourage technology companies to 
prioritize consumers’ security and privacy needs, and to help consumers make 
informed choices.

Many of the privacy and security criteria included in the Digital Standard are 
either directly borrowed or adapted from RDR’s Corporate Accountability Index 
methodology. While RDR’s 35 indicators were developed to evaluate internet, 
mobile, and telecommunications companies, with some adaptation the methodology 
is proving to be equally suitable for assessing networked devices and services 
such as smart TVs. As part of the collaborative research and testing effort led 
by Consumer Reports, other types of networked devices and applications are also 
being evaluated against the Digital Standard. Thus, while the RDR Corporate 
Accountability Index focuses on 22 internet, mobile and telecommunications 
companies, the Digital Standard project demonstrates how the core principles 
underlying RDR’s methodology can be used to evaluate many more companies and 
product types across the information and communication technology (ICT) sector.

The RDR indicators incorporated into the Digital Standard criteria focus on 
corporate disclosure of policies and practices around data collection and 
control, data use and sharing, and privacy and security oversight, among other 
issues. Collectively, these indicators have contributed to Consumer Reports’ 
findings about the disturbing amount of data that TVs collect when connected to 
the internet. These data can include log information, device information, 
location information, as well as viewing information about the content users 
watch, which can be combined and shared for targeted advertising on TVs and 
other platforms with significant implications for privacy and security.

More importantly, the findings reported this month by Consumer Reports 
highlight once again the importance of assessment tools such as RDR’s Index and 
the Digital Standard. Both provide companies with a roadmap to follow for 
establishing basic privacy and security standards. They also provide consumers 
with clear guidance for what they should be looking for in choosing 
internet-connected products. Furthermore, such evidence-based findings about 
privacy weaknesses and security vulnerabilities can be leveraged by advocacy 
organizations, shareholders,  and users to demand more accountability from 
companies. They can also inform the work of policymakers as products from a 
growing number of  industries get connected to the internet.
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