By Charly SHELTON
Some smart televisions can be controlled by voice. Tell it to find a channel or open Netflix, and it will respond. But what if your TV never stops listening? This is the impetus behind AB1116, a bill from Assemblyman Mike Gatto, representative in the California State Assembly for the Crescenta Valley area, as well as for Burbank, Glendale and parts of L.A. The bill requires smart TV manufacturers to stop a practice that allows the TV to record all conversations taking place within earshot of it. These recordings are then uploaded to the manufacturer or a third party for analysis to create more targeted advertising for that specific TV’s viewers. In short, a voice controlled TV monitors everything said in the room. This can be done legally by hiding the verbiage in the user manual or when the TV is initialized and the user clicks “Accept” on the massive block of text any user agreement has. Legally, that is, until this bill passes.
“The passages of the user manual that cover this topic,” said Gatto, “were almost word-for-word the same as certain passages from the novel ‘1984’ [by George Orwell]. It was really amazing and kind of scary to read that stuff. I just thought in many cases, the tension and progress of the law is that we have to catch up with new technologies and this is a case of just trying to make sure our laws catch up with this new technology.”
This technology is not necessarily new and not inherently wrong, said Gatto. He understands where the advertisers are coming from in wanting to deliver the best ads to that family, but it compromises a long standing tradition of privacy and security in America.
“It’s important to distinguish that voice command [technology] is not something that scares me,” said Gatto. “I have no problem with voice commands and being able to control a phone or television by talking to it. But the idea that a television will then record all conversation in the house, and then transmit it to a third party to be analyzed and perhaps stored forever – that’s really problematic.”
The bill has already been referred and has received strong support from both Republican and Democrats, Gatto said. He expects to see a vote as early as the end of September and, if passed, would sign into law shortly thereafter.