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Television Government Privacy

Legislators Introduce Bill To Stop Set Top Boxes From Watching You 161

Posted by Soulskill
from the stop-looking-at-me dept.
An anonymous reader writes "For a few years now, we've been hearing about TV-related devices that have built-in cameras and microphones. Their stated purpose is to monitor consumers and gather data — often to target advertising. (We'll set aside any unstated purposes — the uses they tell us about are bad enough.) Now, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives have submitted legislation to regulate this sort of technology. '[They] said they want to get out ahead of the release of this new technology and pass legislation that ensures it would include beefed up privacy protections for consumers. They added that this legislation is particularly relevant given the recent revelations about the National Security Agency's Internet surveillance programs. ... Additionally, the bill requires a cable box or set-top device to notify consumers when the monitoring technology is activated and in use by posting the phrase "We are watching you" across their TV screens.'"
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Legislators Introduce Bill To Stop Set Top Boxes From Watching You

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  • Oh please! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fustakrakich (1673220) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @11:44AM (#44015405) Journal

    As if the law is going to stop people from spying...

    • As if the law is going to stop people from spying...

      They do. Or else your DNA would have been public property and related information a public property.

      • Or else your DNA would have been public property...

        How am I supposed to know it isn't? Trust them to tell me so? Haven't you people learned anything yet? Yeah, ok, it's not public property. It's the government's private property. I'm supposed to feel better, right?

    • by harrkev (623093)

      The law might not be able to stop people from spying, but a simple post-it-note or a piece of electrical tape sure would.

      Although this common-sense advice will only help people tech-savvy enough to know to do this.

    • by icebike (68054)

      As if the law is going to stop people from spying...

      The law should just ban the manufacture, import, sale, rental, or lease of any cable box equipment with cameras and microphone built in.

      Game consoles should have bright red camera housing with LEDs indicating camera on, and a manual slider door that disables
      the cam and micrpohone.

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        Indeed, and like the OLPC the lights should be hard-wired to the camera/mic so that it's physically impossible to record without activating the lights.

      • The law should just ban the manufacture, import, sale, rental, or lease of any cable box equipment with cameras and microphone built in.

        Why? So only "The Law" can do those things?

        • by icebike (68054)

          The law should just ban the manufacture, import, sale, rental, or lease of any cable box equipment with cameras and microphone built in.

          Why? So only "The Law" can do those things?

          Um, there seems to be a problem of understanding here.

          You buy your set top cable box from Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, Dish, etc. Not from the police.

          Sorry I was speaking above your level of understanding. Next time I'll try speaking in early american knee jerk.

          • Yeah well, the 'police' can tell them to put a camera and a mic in there if they want. Sorry the water is a little shallow at your end of the pool.

      • by Sloppy (14984)

        The law should just ban the manufacture, import, sale, rental, or lease of any cable box equipment with cameras and microphone built in.

        You are you, to say my HTPC can't double as a phone?

        The best way to solve this problem is to outlaw DRM and any other proprietary licensing needed in order to manufacture these computer systems. That would allow competition (and "promote progress" if I may lapse into a little constitutionese). The competition created by ending receiver lock-in, would put users (buyers) in

    • At least they passed a law. Now we'll have legal protection from being spied on in our living rooms and bedrooms just like how the constitution gives protection against unreasonable search by the NSA. I feel safer already. NOT.
  • Don't stop there (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rogueippacket (1977626) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @11:46AM (#44015411)
    Don't just limit this to set top boxes, include gaming consoles and make a big fucking red blinking light mandatory on devices like Glass.
    • And have the light hardwired to the camera power so it's physically impossible for software to turn it off.

      This last bit will stop government from backdoor watching, even via court order.

      • by bmo (77928) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @12:24PM (#44015663)

        And have the light hardwired to the camera power so it's physically impossible for software to turn it off.

        And electrical tape or paint doesn't block light. Right?

        --
        BMO

        • by Anonymous Coward

          And have the light hardwired to the camera power so it's physically impossible for software to turn it off.

          And electrical tape or paint doesn't block light. Right?

          Nope, never seen any paint or electrical tape installed by software that could block light...

        • Step 1 : check an image from TV, say every 15 minutes or so.

          Step 2 : if no image can be detected (and even in the complete darkness with only the TV light tehre will be an image with contrast light/darkness) announce "no person detected" , then show an automatic shutdown in a few minutes message.

          Step 3 : announce this feature in the manual as a power saving measure.
        • by mysidia (191772)

          And electrical tape or paint doesn't block light. Right?

          I put my STB in a wooden cabinet underneath the television, and shut the door. It's sealed pretty tightly, other than some holes I cut out the back of the cabinet, for wires to come in, for Video/Audio/IR Cabling, and some air holes, in the places where I mounted the fans.

          I imagine... I don't have much to worry about cameras on an STB that normally lives in a box with no light, other than from the LCD panels of other devices.

          • by drcheap (1897540)
            I'm sure there are some choice sentences in the installation/operating instructions of these new-fangled STBs that explain how they MUST be located in a specific position relative to your TV. You know, for "optimal performance" and whatnot.
        • by antdude (79039)

          Don't forget mic(rophone). You can't cover that to block audio inputs easily. One would have to disconnect it physically! :(

          • by drcheap (1897540)

            Just put your STB inside of a small vacuum canister!

            (Yes, I realize there are all kinds of problems with that idea...just stop thinking about it and enjoy the humor you oversensitive clod).

      • Because no one would bother de-soldering the LED off the board.......
        • by Immerman (2627577)

          If it's a device whose normal operation would involve that light being on then it'll be pretty obvious that it's been tampered with. And of course if you want to remove such a safeguard on your own device that's your business. Short of imprisonment you can't protect someone who doesn't want to be protected.

        • by drcheap (1897540)

          Because no one would bother de-soldering the LED off the board.......

          "I don't want to know when they are spying on me."

          Yeah, that makes sense. A lot.

    • That's funny. You all are asking the people who spy on us to cripple the tools they use for the job. When when they tell you to 'roll over and take it like a man', you happily comply and ask for more.

    • In other words, you say that this law excludes things like the new "Xbox One" which has that mandatory camera.
    • by MacDork (560499)

      Don't just limit this to set top boxes, include gaming consoles and make a big fucking red blinking light mandatory on devices like Glass.

      Why no blinking lights on security cameras? You expect no one is filming you without your knowledge in public? If glass makes you uncomfortable, I suggest you look up occasionally.

      • by mysidia (191772)

        Why no blinking lights on security cameras?

        Because there are typically signs about video recording taking place. If they are visible; everyone knows it's either a security cam that's always recording, or a dummy cam that's never recording --- dummy security cameras often have "red lights" to attract attention.

        Security cams also dump their footage to DVR systems, large amounts of video are archived --- extracting video requires a lot of effort, this is not done lightly - generally, only for the l

    • by melikamp (631205)
      Instead of protecting the consumer by outlawing every evil feature a computer might possibly have, they should simply mandate free and open source software in all consumer electronics. It will make all software cheaper, spur the competition, and provide adequate protection from all evil features, even the ones we can't imagine today.
  • by DaMattster (977781) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @11:53AM (#44015447)
    I think I'll drop my drawers and spread my ass cheeks really wide for the camera. Hopefully that'll nauseate the folks on the other end watching. Knowing my luck, if there is targeted advertising then I might suddenly see advertisements for Charmin Ultra and Tidy Bowl.
    • Re:That's fine (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kheldan (1460303) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @12:01PM (#44015509) Journal
      I know you're going for the Funny here, but:

      In the 1984-esque future that some people would have for us all, you'd be quietly picked up by law enforcement officials some time shortly afterwards, and taken to a hospital for "observation" because of your "deviant behavior", then either committed to a mental institution or a "re-education" facility to "cure" you of the mental illness causing your deviant outbursts. Have to protect the citizens, after all.
      • I'm partly going for funny and partly serious. I really don't want to be observed in my own home like that. I figure if I can make it distasteful enough, it may stop. :-)
        • by kheldan (1460303)
          Trying to think like someone working for a police state would: If you were observed, you would probably at least get "interviewed" by the police, because they'd think that if you were that much of an exhibitionist, knowing that you were obviously being monitored, that you might expose yourself to children -- and we have to think of the children!
          Of course that's why this shit has to be nipped in the bud as soon as possible, so we don't end up going down that road. Or, at least, put off going down that road u
          • Or, at least, put off going down that road until I'm dead, after which I won't give a crap, because I'll be dead.

            Spoken like a true corporate sociopath.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      The folks on the other end watching will be Indians working for a few dollars a day.

    • by wasteoid (1897370)
      You would probably start receiving advertisements for the Bravo channel.
    • by mysidia (191772)

      I think I'll drop my drawers and spread my ass cheeks really wide for the camera. Hopefully that'll nauseate the folks on the other end watching. Knowing my luck, if there is targeted advertising then I might suddenly see advertisements for Charmin Ultra and Tidy Bowl.

      Perhaps if you cause some of your copyrighted work to appear on the camera, and then start sending takedowns, demanding that their "recording/monitoring center" immediately destroy all copy of tapes with video captured from your STB.

  • by kheldan (1460303) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @11:55AM (#44015465) Journal
    1. Don't allow the technology at all. Why does your television or set-top box (video game consoles excluded) need a camera or microphone in it in the first place?
    2. Mandatory user-configurable setting to turn off such devices permanently if that's what the consumer wants, or better yet, make such devices separate accessories that physically plug in, so you can physically disconnect them when you're not actively using them.
    • by Shavano (2541114) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @12:14PM (#44015577)

      What if some customers want to be watched? I assure you, there are many such people. Why do you think there are so many people with Facebook privacy settings wide open? Instead, make it so you can't make any of the cable services dependent on it. Then users who don't want to be watched can cover the camera port. Of course, even then, they'll attempt to manipulate you. They could show you only the most annoying possible ads if the camera port is covered, but show you ads that they have calculated will be less annoying to you if they can see you. No camera? Nonstop ads for penis pills, laxatives and feminine hygiene products.

      Even basic ad targeting is more profitable than untargeted ads they shovel at us now. Why advertise high-end cars to people who can't afford them? A camera in your living room could tell that what you really might be interested in is a new couch and you probably don't have a lot of money to invest, or that you have young'uns or don't and tell whether it would be likely to be profitable to show you ads for diapers and toys.

      • Most facebook profiles that wide open are because they don't know they are or don't know how to change it.

      • Thanks a lot, moderators, for encouraging this sociopath and his fucked-up worldview.

      • by MrL0G1C (867445)

        Why do you think there are so many people with Facebook privacy settings wide open?

        Mostly because they are too lazy / don't know how to go through a bunch of settings which Facebook made very complicated.

        What if some customers want to be watched?

        Why should the 95% that don't want to be watched have invasive technology added to their TVs just to appease the 5% that do want to be watched.

        • by Shavano (2541114)
          Do you realize that the "fix" for this is any of
          1. (a) buy a TV that doesn't have a camera in it?
          2. (b) don't connect the upstream connection?
          3. (c) put a piece of tape or a conveniently placed object in front of the camera?

          Why should 5% be forbidden to have/use a technology that they want for whatever reason because some others don't want it in their homes? What kind of Nanny-State thinking is that?

          • by kheldan (1460303)
            Why? Because corporations lie about their intentions. Because corporations are all about profit, not protecting people's rights, and cannot be trusted to be responsible anymore.
          • by MrL0G1C (867445)

            Perhaps the mandate should be that this feature is clearly labelled on the product as a product warning.

            Why should anyone pay for this if they don't want it, a clear example of a feature all TVs have that doesn't benefit the consumer is HDCP, they pay for the chips to decode encrypted signals, they pay for the relevant patents and research, but this is a technology which reduces the functionality of TVs and audio-visual equipment in general.

            (a) buy a TV that doesn't have a camera in it?

            1) Cameras in TVs could become ubiquitous - can you find a new lapt

      • by kheldan (1460303)
        Simple.
        Blacklist all the ad servers on your router.
    • by PopeRatzo (965947)

      1. Don't allow the technology at all.

      And when has that ever worked?

  • Put it on the box (Score:5, Insightful)

    by clarkkent09 (1104833) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @11:58AM (#44015485)

    It's too late once you already bought the thing. There should be a message on the box in big bold letters, "this device may be used to watch what you are doing in your own house" or something, like on cigarette packs. If you don't mind, sure buy it but you should have the information ahead of time.

    • by kheldan (1460303)
      1. Put it back in the box, take it back to the store, exchange it for something with no camera and no microphone.
      2. Electrical tape over the camera and/or microphone.
      3. Disconnect it from your network when you're not actively using these features for the legitimate purposes you bought them for.
      3a. Doesn't work when disconnected from the network/internet? Return it to the store or sell it on Craigslist, get something that doesn't invade your privacy.
  • by sideslash (1865434) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @12:03PM (#44015511)
    The NSA doesn't ask for permission. A head honcho director just recently lied to Congress under oath about the extent of surveillance, and nobody in charge seems to mind. Tell me again exactly what this law is supposed to accomplish?
    • by Rougement (975188)
      True. Even so, can't people monitor their internet connection and be able to tell when they're being spied on? I'm not competent enough to do this but I'd be surprised if there wasn't a way to record the IP address that unauthorized data is being sent to, along with the nature of the data itself.
      • can't people monitor their internet connection and be able to tell when they're being spied on? I'm not competent enough to do this but I'd be surprised if there wasn't a way to record the IP address that unauthorized data is being sent to, along with the nature of the data itself.

        A competent hacker can hide his identity by relaying his connection through multiple other servers, so you often can't determine the origin of even black hat spying. The NSA has resources that hackers don't, such as listening filters installed at many of the internet's core communication hubs. So they can spy on basically everybody and nobody (except the big telcos) knows exactly how it's done.

  • consider the habits of young folks and what could happen if this records a young girl/boy being kids

    Oh Noes its dah Kiddey Pron!!!

    seriously can any manufacturer guarantee that they will not record or allow to be posted online children in states of undress??

  • also add give people the right to buy the box with no outlet / mirroring / per box access / card fees.

  • by wiggles (30088) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @12:28PM (#44015685)

    The bill is H.R. 2356, introduced by Michael Capuano (D-Mass) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.).

    Find your congressman here. [house.gov] Send them some sort of correspondence that says you wish them to co-sponsor the bill. If you e-mail, make sure you request a response.

  • ...Additionally, the bill requires a cable box or set-top device to notify consumers when the monitoring technology is activated and in use by posting the phrase "We are watching you" across their TV screens.

    Yeah... that's not gonna happen.
    If the entertainment Industry's lobbyists are unable to get this legislation stopped that will be the first provision to be removed. It's simply too creepy and will have most people taking their STB back to the local office to get an older one with no camera.

    • ... It's simply too creepy and will have most people taking their STB back to the local office to get an older one with no camera.

      You're saying that like it's a bad thing.

      • by SeaFox (739806)

        It is for the MSOs.

        They want their new boxes because chances are the new boxes will have a higher monthly rental rate than the old ones, justified by the extra features they have and sleeker design.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      If the entertainment Industry's lobbyists are unable to get this legislation stopped that will be the first provision to be removed. It's simply too creepy and will have most people taking their STB back to the local office to get an older one with no camera.

      There is a bigger problem.... consumers' TV may be turned off; the STB may be plugged into a "video switching" unit, so that nothing can be displayed on the TV screen.

      On the other hand... if they are watching the STB feed, the message may ob

  • Everything is mute with EULA enforcement.. since the EULA can say anything and be changed at anytime.. You basically agree to whatever they say you agree to.. So if they use the cameras to view you naked in front of TV/xbox/etc.. then you agreed to it by saying "yes" to the EULA..

    You sign a contract with lots of fine print for a cell phone.. Which is a remote bug / camera / GPS tag / etc all rolled into one nice package the government has proven time and again it loves to snatch and snoop on..

    the problem is

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Since they are politicians we can safely assume that anything they say is false and everything is to be inverted, thus they are making it mandatory for the set top boxes to include surveillance capability.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Is it true that the new xbox will cause continual error displays if you try to tape over the camera, and that it actually does face recognition so that it can recognize people who walk in the room and trigger actions based on such events?

    What is the resolution of these things (in millimeters at 2m)?

  • Is to be informed as to which boxes have microphones and cameras, and their locations.
  • Ah, ahead of this technology? How many of us own a sony television with a "presence monitor"? I always wondered about the capability of this device. Considering the depth of thought required for NSA to perform in an info war, I do really wonder how many devices they have in there long before the XBone.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...YOU watch the set top box!

  • And your threshold is your last line of defense. I am leaving my xbox unplugged unless I use it. Which is less and less frequently; and I dont see myself buying any more games for it.

  • I want a mechanical switch to physically disconect any Camera / Microphone from the computer/TV/media box. I do not trust any software setting that just says that they are off. The computer can be lying. At least with a switch, where I can open up the box and verify that the switch really disconnect things, I can be sure that those sensors are off.

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