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Home Device Spying Law Gathers Dust

You-Are-Under-Surveillance-Sign-K-7664If black people don’t know by now then you need to wake up to this. Your home and mobile devices have been spying on you and delivering the details of your life to marketers, device manufacturers, utilities, insurance companies, possibly your employer and many others.

Currently there is a bill sitting somewhere in Congress that will address the use of spying technology in consumer devices. Sadly however H.R.2356, the “We Are Watching You Act of 2013” has been languishing in legislative purgatory since June of last year. The bill was introduced by Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.).  Neither the House nor the Senate has voted on the bill and it doesn’t look like it will happen this year either.

The bill is intended to stop or at least restrict the use of technology by television service providers who wish to monitor customers using cameras or microphones built in to set-top boxes or DVRs. Television service providers want to use this technology in order to analyze viewing behavior and serve up highly targeted advertising. You are probably asking how targeted this advertising can get? If the device detects a couple cuddling on the sofa then maybe the ads will promote romantic vacations, romantic comedy movies or possibly contraceptive products.

The bill addresses the use of home consumer technology devices such as televisions to spy on the consumer. It bans video service operators such as your cable company from watching or listening to you with built in cameras or microphones found on DVRs, set-top TV boxes, and smart televisions without the consumer’s express permission. The bill would also address other devices such as the Microsoft Xbox One which is also used to spy on users. Microsoft has built in to its Xbox special cameras and sensors known as Kinect.

Microsoft Xbox with Kinect

Microsoft Xbox with Kinect

You maybe interested in to know that Facebook is currently spying on you using technology that operates your phone’s microphone to listen to what is happening around you when you post to the website from the phone. In addition smart televisions are spying on users through the built in webcams. So you think you’re watching television when in actuality it is watching you right back.

In 2012 Verizon filed a patent for a monitoring technology  that uses infrared cameras and microphones capable of detecting if subscribers are eating, exercising, reading or sleeping near the monitoring device. Verizon was denied the patent. If Verizon’s subscribers agree to the monitoring the bill would mandate that the company display  a “we are watching you” message on the screen and  reveal what data is being collected. 

“This may sound preposterous but it’s neither a joke nor an exaggeration. These DVRs would essentially observe consumers as they watch television as a way to super-target ads. It is an incredible invasion of privacy.”Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.)

Capuano believes the recording and analyzing of viewer behavior by television cable providers and networks may threaten individual privacy rights. His legislation allows consumers to opt out of monitoring at any time. In addition television service providers would be required to tell consumers what information is being collected and how it would be used.

Capuano’s bill comes at a time when there is general outrage sparked by the revelations of NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden. Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency has collected the telephone records of millions of Americans and accesses the databases of the nation’s biggest Internet companies.

Some privacy experts believe public anger at the NSA and Capuano’s proposal is a clear indicator that the nation is fed up and that the technology is slowly eating away at the right to privacy.

Technology analyst Roger Kay of  Endpoint Technologies Associates Inc. said, “Here we are again in this sort of Orwellian moment. The human institutions haven’t had time to catch up with the technology.”

Breaking It Down

My first question is; do black people even care about privacy? I have to answer yes. As much as any American. But are we aware of the incredible advancement in technology that allows corporations to take a seat on the sidelines of our lives and watch us like predatory birds? The answer to that is probably no. If you are reading this then you need to take an inventory of the devices in your home that are spying on you. You need to know what information is being broadcast via your television, game console, thermostat, cell phone and Internet connection. What is happening here is that the corporate world has decided that since there is nothing to say we can’t do it then we will do it. Rep. Capuano sees this. This is a clear failure of any ethical and moral restraint. All black people should be aroused if not outraged. How dare these corporations even consider using the technology they sell us against us. Yes, against us. They are watching everything we do and collecting information for their databases to use in the control of our lives and earnings. Black people are in danger, just as the rest of America is, of being brainwashed into thinking that our privacy is being protected. It is not! We are being fooled into believing that we are acting for our own good by reeling in the government while corporations run wild over our personal privacy. Are we going to remain that stupid? We are clamoring for Congress to do something about the NSA but not about private industry. Why? Are we already brainwashed?

Internet Spying: Your Home is Full of Snitches

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Courtesy of Image go

A lot of African-Americans are going to be extremely surprised by what I am about to tell you. Your home is full of snitches. Everything in it is spying on you. And not just your home. Your car is a snitch as well.

Black people are extremely averse to having our business in the streets. We believe in minding our own business and reminding you to stay out of ours. But we live in the information age and things have become very open and complicated. Technology has gotten to the point where you can’t do much or anything or go anywhere without someone knowing exactly what you are doing. 

AACR Rule #11, Information is the currency and commodity of the digital age.

Let’s look at the devices in your home that are telling your business.

1) Televisions – Black men love a big screen television with all the tricks and features. You gotta have it to watch the game. But these new smart TVs can and do track what you watch. Electronics manufacturer LG makes televisions that not only spy on what channels you’re watching but sends the names of files on thumb drives connected to the set back to LG. Hackers can also hack some models of Samsung smart TVs and use them as instruments to steal data from your network and all the devices connected to it. And are you ready for this? Hackers can even watch you through the webcam built into the television.

2) Your DVR/Cable-Box/Satellite-TV ReceiverNow even if your television is not spying on you then your cable box may be doing the job. Those set top boxes do more than bring you cable television. They can also provide your Internet service. So everything you watch on television and do online is recorded somewhere. Cable providers can track what you are watching and recording. They use this information to target ads more efficiently. Did you read your service contract? You may have agreed to allow the cable company to sell this information and even turn it over to the government.

3) Kitchen Appliances – Yeah; the newest refrigerators and other high tech kitchen appliances are connected to your home network allowing for great convenience and energy savings. But there is a catch; spying and security risks. So what can a kitchen appliance tell someone about you? How about when you wake up in the morning. That connected coffee maker is a snitch. If you have a refrigerator with a barcode reader it will tell someone your shopping habits. Smart kitchen appliances have had known security vulnerabilities for some time now. Can you believe there is a documented instance where hackers were using a smart refrigerator in a malicious email attack. I’m not joking! Hackers successfully used a smart fridge to send out malicious emails.

4) Cell Phones – If this comes as a surprise to you then you clearly have not been paying attaention. Your cell provider may be following your everymove, call and text. This information includes whom you communicate with and your location. This also includes the various apps you load on to your phone. Haven’t you heard about Angry Birds That and other apps may track other more detailed activity. Some apps will sync your phone contact list with the app the providers’ servers by default.

5) Your Webcam or Home Security Cameras Malware on your computer can operate your computer webcam  and record you or your family. That’s right. That webcam may be busy taking photos or video and you think the camera is off. Some notable people have found themselves the target of blackmail from a hacker who captured compromising images. Miss Teen USA was blackmailed by a hacker who took control of her laptop’s webcam. The hacker photographed her naked and demanded more images. Your home security cameras are vulnerable as well. Malware on computers could intercept transmissions from your home security cameras. These cameras are attached to your network and allow you to watch your homes from anywhere. Once hacked a criminal can see you’re not home or, more frightening, who is at home.

6) Your Telephone – You got the bundle right? Phone, internet and television service all in one. All using your home network and router. Easy pickings especially if you have not changed your router default password. Look at your phone bill. Every call, every number you dialed and every incoming call is listed and how long you were on the call. Its all there. And the provider has it too. See #1 & 2.

7.)  Lighting, Home Entertainment System, Home Security System – Can you turn on the lights from your cell phone? Open the garage door? What about your home alarm system? All these things are controlled via the Internet. Very convenient.  But ask yourself if this information is available to outsiders?  Is your security company recording your coming and going? What about your home entertainment system? Do you have a DVD player that streams Netflix? Do you stream music over your home stereo? This information is  relayed to manufacturers of the equipment as well as the supplier of the music or programming. Remember that anything that connects to the Internet can be hacked.

8) The house thermostat (s) Internet connected thermostats are now on the market. These devices provide convenience and energy savings. And the energy companies learn your habits and preferences. Google’s recently purchased the Nest thermostat maker. And keep in mind that Google is a notorious information collector. Your utility company may offer comparable devices to help you save on your energy bills. But what else is that thermostat or better versions that are sure to come telling your utility company?

9) Your Medical Devices This should definitely shock you but its not anything new. Medical devices such as pacemakers, insulin pumps, and other medical devices can and have been hacked. But even if they have not been hacked these devices may still be spying on you. Some pacemakers can transmit patient status information over the Internet allowing the doctor to monitor the patient.  Could this information be intercepted? What if a hacker transmitted phony information to the doctor? Also known as a man-in-the-middle attack.  And please forgive me thinking like this, but what if a hacker took control of a pacemaker or insulin pump? Would that be the perfect murder?

10) Your car – You have GPS don’t you? What about Bluetooth? Pandora radio? What about EzPass or other toll taking devices? Wherever you drive you can be tracked. Cars are the latest target of hackers because more and more come with Internet connectivity and some even act a WiFi hot spots. But what about how you drive? Some insurance companies are now offering devices that track your driving habits in exchange for insurance discounts. Progressive insurance uses a device called a SnapShot. It tracks your driving habits for 30 days and then adjusts your rates accordingly.

11) Your gun! – America loves its guns and it seems everyone has one at home. Is this a privacy issue? As firearms technology advances we may see the day of the  “smartgun.” A weapon that is computerized with various safety features meant to prevent accidents and unauthorized use. Such as by a child or someone other than the owner. Look for these on the market soon.  But can these devices be used to spy on the owner? Can the gun be remotely disabled by a hacker or law enforcement? Would the government be interested in such a high tech measure? Could a citizen or criminal be tracked by following his gun? Could a stolen firearm be tracked or how about illegal gun sales. And what would the NRA say about it? Stay tuned!

Now You Know

 

 

 

Smart TV Maybe Watching You

That big screen smart TV mounted on your living room wall could be watching you. According to software specialist NCG Group some smart televisions with built in microphones could be spying on their owners.

What a lot of owners of smart TVs don’t understand is that their television is actually a computer. Some smart televisions can connect to the Internet, send and receive email, browse the web and even answer the phone or Skype conversations. It’s simply not your father’s television. These televisions, with the introduction of malware, can become surveillance devices. They can actually listen to and record your conversations. This capability was demonstrated at a recent Infosec Conference in London.

“Malicious apps could be downloaded from the manufacturer’s app store. The TV does have the option for auto-updating, so releasing a legitimate app, then releasing a malicious update, is another attack vector,” said  Felix Ingram, principal consultant at NCC Group. Many television manufacturers have released the source code for the television software and this makes it easier for hackers to insert malware.

And it is happening to smart TVs from almost every manufacturer. Electronics giant LG recently admitted that one of its models has been transmitting information while the user was watchng television without the owner’s knowledge or consent.  A Samsung smart TV was hacked causing  Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) to write Samsung demanding they improve the security of their product.

Breaking It Down

Black people, like all Americans love their big fancy televisions. Almost as much as we love our cars. But the bottom line is that we are becoming more and more vulnerable to our technology and those who may use it against us. How would you like it of you discovered that someone was watching you watch television…in your underwear!

This is really creepy. We discovered long ago that hackers could turn our computer webcams on. The same thing is now happening to our compu-tvs. Awareness is vital when we learn of these issues and black people need to make sure we preserve our privacy.  How do we do this?

First you can cover the camera on your smart TV. Use a piece of tape to or Post-It note to cover the lens. You can also disconnect the network from your television when you are not using it for Internet access. But you won’t be able to access Netflix or other web streaming services.

But I think I need to point out something else. Since smart TVs can access the Internet some people use them to do things like shop or bank. You know where this is going right? A hacker smart enough to hack into your television is also smart enough to steal your banking user name and password. They could also steal credit card information if you shop online using your smart TV. Another thing you need to understand is that many new techno gadgets are entering the market place that allow you to control your home thermostat, lock and unlock the doors to your home, control appliances and much more.But many of these devices have no security  leaving wide open to hackers. By the way this includes your home security system and your car.

Its vital that black people understand these vulnerabilities in their cyber world. Now you know.