California Committee Commands TVs to Protect Privacy

The California State Assembly's Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee has approved a bill 11 to 0 to make sure consumers have control over the voice-recognition feature in newer TVs that can allow their conversations to be shared with third parties to determine their personal tastes.

That is according to Committee chairman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale), who sponsored the bill.

He said that the bill will require that a TV's voice-recognition feature can't be enabled without the consumer’s knowledge and consent and prohibits manufacturers from using recorded sounds for other than the use approved by the consumer. That way, says Gatto, it preserves the voice-command function, but would prevent the scenario of a family "discussing financial issues and finding themselves receiving targeted commercials from bankruptcy attorneys as they watch their favorite show.”

“A family’s home is their castle. Yet new technologies have breached the walls, and now even a family’s most private moments are at risk from the Big Data hordes,” said Gatto in announcing its approval by the committee. “AB 1116 will give the consumer the ability to personally determine the level of privacy protections inside their home.

"We’re not trying to stymie technological advances or fetter profit margins. The television industry has survived for nearly 100 years without knowing what I said to my wife during an episode of The Bachelor.”

The next stop for the bill is the Judiciary Committee.

The issue has been gaining traction on the national front.

In February, the smart TV voice recognition issue was brought up several times by concerned lawmakers in a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the Internet of Things. Following up on that hearing, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), whose has made privacy a signature issue and who is ranking member of the Privacy, Technology, and the Law subcommittee, sent letters to Samsung in the wake of reports that some of its TVs are recording conversations and sharing them with third parties — the idea is that it helps the TVs improve their voice recognition technology for recognizing voice commands.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.