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Money Making Sense: Is your smart TV watching you?

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SALT LAKE CITY — Did you just buy a smart TV during the Black Friday sales? Are you taking part in remote work meetings from home on Zoom?

Chris Willis, chief of design for Domo, said your electronic devices could be spying on you.  In an episode of “Money Making Sense,” he told host Heather Kelly how to prevent personal information from being sent to marketers. They also discussed how hackers can use your AI (artificial intelligence) devices against you. 

Willis also said — over Zoom — that technology is great at helping us stay connected to our world from home, but technology can also open us up to vulnerabilities. 

Passwords are the keys to you and your stuff

Staying safe with technology starts with having a secure password, not sharing it with others and changing it on a regular basis, he said.

Willis said on the Dark Web there are lists of millions of the most common passwords. 


“‘1, 2, 3’ is actually a password that people use,” he said, “and they do use what we would call dictionary words” such as  “dance,” “dog,” “sister” or “mother.” 

Willis advised creating a l-o-n-g password that includes random characters because random characters — &^$#@ — are not found in dictionaries. Your password should also contain a combination of upper and lowercase letters.

He recommended using reputable password-management software. He said he pays $4 a month for the protection, and says the cost is money well spent.

Heather said she’s a cheapskate and doesn’t want to pay $48 a year. She asked Willis about using a long, complicated password for every site she needs to access, instead.

“That’s better in some ways, but it’s not going to make you ultimately more secure. And the reason is hackers understand that is a common pattern which people follow,” Willis said.

He said password-management software checks to make sure you’re not using the same password twice; it also scans the Dark Web to find passwords that have been hacked and used in security breaches somewhere else.

Willis mentioned another powerful security feature used by the bigger, more reputable online sources, such as Google and Apple, which protects the user from a stranger trying to access their data such as personal details or financial assets, is two-factor authentication.

He said if your identity has been hacked or your financial assets breached, it will cost you more than $48 a year.

“[Being hacked] could burden you for years,” he warned. 

Convenience vs. privacy: a tradeoff

How does someone hack my smart TV or Alexa device — or can they? Heather asked.

Willis said these types of electronics learn about you as you use them, such as the sound of your voice, what genres of music you listen to or what TV or movies you watch.

“As you’re watching TV, they’re kind of watching you,” he said.

Willis warned that these types of devices tend to have the default settings turned on when they are sold; you could be sharing information with the manufacturer or a third party unknowingly as a result.

He also advised turning off the automatic content-recognition (ACR) feature on your smart TV, which collects data about what you watch. Manufacturers have different names for what they call ACR. 

The ACR feature watches what you watch, then matches it against a database of everything everyone else is watching for marketing purposes. The goal is to provide relevant choices about what you might like to watch in the future, Willis said.

“For the most part, I don’t think people know that they’re being observed in that way. So that’s one of the first things I look for as a consumer. Go through the settings, do the boring stuff. It feels sometimes like doing your taxes,” Chris said.

Learn how to turn off this snooping feature on your smart TV here.

Protecting a smart TV

Heather noted that some homeowners have security cameras inside their homes to check on their pets, the house cleaning crew, possible burglars, etc. But there have been news reports of outsiders hacking into those cameras. They can watch and even speak to people inside the home.

For example, this report from NBC News: Man hacks Ring camera in 8-year-old girl’s bedroom, taunts her: ‘I’m Santa Claus’

Willis said when you bring new devices into your home, you can, in a sense, also bring “countless strangers” in, as well.

“A lot of this, though, does start with, as we talked about earlier, taking your password accounts very seriously,” he said.

Willis stressed the need to change your passwords regularly and during the moment you notice any activity on any of your accounts that you don’t recognize.


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