Is Your Technology Spying On You?

Your T.V. might watch you, more than you watch it.


Getty Images/iStockphoto

Your cell phone tracts what you do with it, and also, where you are at all times. Photo resources via gettyimages and Shutterstock.

Christopher Blanchard, Journalist

  Imagine a world in which technology rules, your laptop and television watch you sleep at night, your phone and watch track your location by day, your privacy: nonexistent. This is the modern world we live in, and these new technologies have become a modern necessity–don’t worry, our respectable government loves them too.

  Many modern electronics–close to all of them, actually–can monitor the user via built-in cameras and microphones. Other mobile devices simply track the user’s location, as well as destinations the device can designate as “home.”

  Mr. Lightfoot, a younger, 11th grade history teacher said, “It bothers me, but I accept that is the cost of using [modern electronics].” He continued, “Because of this, though, I try to limit what I share or allow to be collected.”

  Mr. Lightfoot is not the first to be so weary, although others take this to the extreme. Last year, creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, was pictured in a photograph taken from his office, but in the corner, his laptop could be found with tape over its built-in camera and microphone.

   If someone as technologically savvy as Zuckerberg, is taking these precautions, maybe this threat is more real than most believe.    

  An instance of these monitoring electronics stems from a controversial murder in 2015, in which the victim was found deceased in his friend’s hot tub. The presence of many monitoring electronics within the home, such as a smart utility meter (which is part of smart home technologies,) and his smartphone led investigators to attempt to access the recorded data.

  The main source of evidence the investigators focused on was an Amazon Echo that was found in the living room. Since then, investigators have attempted to gain access to this data via legal concession, although Amazon has denied their data be used as evidence since the case opened.

  In late July, this year, the trial marked the first instance of a court accepting this type of recorded data as evidence. With more than 11 million Echos sold worldwide, surely this is but the first of many ways this new technology will change the world.

  But why do these machines monitor us so closely? The reason is not as sinister as most suspect; it’s simply because the manufacturers watch for keywords and phrases (such as searching for certain shows on Netflix, they can then make educated estimations as to what others want to watch)  that will benefit their sales and personalization via the user.

  For instance, smart tv’s record what shows people watch most,  in order to make more accurate suggestions for the user based on what they search for and how long they watch for.

  Although they are not programmed to this extent as of today, If the tv has a camera, it could use this recorded data to determine whether or not the tv is simply on in the background while the user is busy doing other things like chores,  or if it is actively being watched.

  On that note, the TV could also use the recorded data to make suggestions based simply on who is watching the TV at that point in time. If a child is watching, the TV can properly suggest appropriate shows for that age group. The manufacturers could easily achieve all of this by simply adding this to its “terms and agreements.”

  The smart TV is not the only personal technology that has the capacity to accurately monitor you though. The Fitbit, health and activity tracker, has the ability to gauge the wearer’s weight, age, height and even gender, solely by monitoring the wearer’s walking patterns.

  The reason that these electronics are allowed to not only record sensitive data such as this, but to also send this data to a designated third party company/facility, is due to the “Third Party Doctrine” which is a legal theory that designates that any information that the user voluntarily surrenders can be sent to a third party company.

  The main reason for sending this information to a third party in the first place, is due to the processing capabilities of the device. The devices usually cannot process the recorded data themselves, and must send this data elsewhere to be processed and searched for anything that can benefit sales. The contract full of terms and agreements within the device that the user has to agree to in order to use said device, allows the third party doctrine to take effect.

An Amazon Echo, any user can wake it up by simply saying “hey Alexa,” or anything that resembles that phrase.
Photo Taken By: Chris Blanchard.

  In most cases, such as the murder trial in which an Amazon Echo was used as evidence, the third party, or manufacturer of the device can refuse to relieve this information, although the third party doctrine does have some fairly large loopholes and this can lead to more sinister uses of this data, such as compromising overall security and personal information.

  One of these loopholes pertains to how the term “third party” and it’s definition are very vague, as anybody not directly associated with the technology, developer, and user is considered a third party; anybody, including our government, can therefore receive this sensitive data for “processing purposes.”

  Our government may take this opportunity to monitor us for the “common defense” of our nation. Not that they can’t retrieve this information other ways, such as hacking into other third party data caches.

  Mr. Lightfoot said, “It would benefit various government agencies and potentially mitigate various threats, such as terrorist attacks.” He added, “However, most of the information…would be very personal and require a great deal of monitoring.”

  This level of supervision would require some pretty massive loopholes, and would have to be executed to either a ridiculously ignorant society, or a completely submissive one; something similar to, as Mr. Lightfoot mentioned, dystopian societies experienced in novels such as Minority Report and 1984.

The entire Edward Snowden ordeal from 2013, in which he leaked formal NSA and CIA documents to the public, (which pertained to how these agencies were already watching us to an unreasonable extent) proves that our government has the capability to pull off a nationwide monitoring system.

  Our government would have to dirty their hands a little bit to invade American privacy to this extent, although our government has already passed some pretty alarming laws: the “Countering Foreign Disinformation and Propaganda Act,” passed Christmas Eve of last year, which allowed our government to create hoaxes and propaganda to ”counter” foreign disinformation. Furthermore, House-joint resolution 76 established new permissions in Virginia and Maryland, which allowed state police forces to search houses near metro systems without requiring a warrant, in order to protect public transportation in those states.

  These laws were passed without any media coverage, and for the most part, went under the radar because these  portions of the bill were small and amidst the rest of the, seemingly, harmless bills.

  Although contemporary society has not become a dystopia, these electronics, ranging from smartphones to smart TVs may lead to a corrupt world, and common consumers should practice caution with this newfound technology before “big brother” becomes a reality.