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But real-life versions of this Orwellian scenario are being played out every day in towns and cities across the globe — and in most cases the victims have no idea. An IT consultant called Jason Huntley, who lives in a village near Hull, uncovered evidence that a flat-screen television, which had been sitting in his living room since the summer, was secretly invading his family’s privacy.
He began investigating the £400 LG device after noticing that its home screen appeared to be showing him ‘targeted’ adverts — for cars, and Knorr stock cubes — based on programmes he’d just been watching.
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Jason Huntley, meanwhile, tells me he is ‘very suspicious and also a little worried’ by the affair.
What’s to blame is the continuing rise of smart televisions, which account for most new TV sets sold and are predicted to be in more than half of British homes by 2016.
This included camcorder footage of family celebrations containing images of his wife and two young children. After his case was picked up by mainstream news outlets, LG announced an investigation.
These high-tech devices differ from traditional televisions in that they are not just passive boxes that receive a signal and transfer it to a backlit screen. For example, many smart TVs have shopping ‘apps’ to access Amazon. They allow us to watch You Tube, instantly download films via Netflix, stream BBC shows on i Player, and talk to friends using the video phone link Skype.
But in practice, like almost every type of computer, they can be all-too-easily hacked.
They heard every word you said, and logged every TV show you watched.
Some are criminals, others work for major corporations. It may sound like a plot summary for a futuristic science-fiction movie.
And unlike PCs, almost all of which have fairly good anti-virus ‘firewalls’, smart TVs have little or no such software.