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Is your TV watching you?

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POSTED: Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 10:20pm

UPDATED: Friday, April 26, 2013 - 3:52pm

It wasn’t that long ago when all you did while watching TV was watch TV.

Now, you can surf the net, check your Facebook, and even video chat with friends.

But all that convenience comes at a price.

Experts say your smart TV can be hacked and that means your TV could be watching you.

With features like built-in cameras, microphones, web browsers, and hard drives, smart TVs are the next generation of home entertainment.

"Smart Tvs are actually one of the most popular items that Best Buy has been able to sell now. They went from being an item that not many people knew about to becoming one of the hottest items we're selling,” said Ryan Dillard, a sales associate with Best Buy.

But this new technology comes at a price.

"Anytime that you make an advance in technology, any time that you do something that's going to be convenient, almost always, there's a trade-off," said Jay J. Armes III, Assistant Chief Investigator with The Investigators in El Paso.

That trade-off is your privacy.

Jay J. Armes III is a private investigator, and surveillance and security specialist. He says smart TVs can make your home vulnerable to cyber predators. They can watch your children get ready for school or hear a private conversation between you and your spouse.

What’s worse – you might not know that you’re being watched.

"Unfortunately, because it has a built-in camera and microphone, if someone has access to your IP address and can break through your firewall, they can access whatever your TV is seeing and if you happen to be in front of your TV when they access it, they can see and hear everything that's going on in front of your smart TV," said Armes.

Armes also said any photos, videos, or information you upload and store into your smart TV can also be accessed by a hacker, who can then do with it what they want.

"You've got a huge problem because if it falls into the wrong hands, they can steal your identity, they can wipe your bank accounts out, they can hijack just about anything that you have. It's a huge problem," said Armes.

"At any point in time when you start connecting to the Internet, you're connecting to the world. So, it's possible that at any point in time, for someone to get in there, if they're good enough," said Dillard.

If you are a tech junkie and in the market to buy a smart TV, how do you protect your privacy while enjoying your new toy?

"You got to be very careful about the information that you put out and the information that you allow people to have access to," said Armes.

Jamie Johnson and her family spent weeks researching a new TV. They decided to invest in a smart TV – one that lets them stream movies online or log into Facebook.

"It really has been a great experience. The kids like it too. We get the keyboard out and they like to play with it. It's just neat to play with, mostly," said Johnson.

But what Jamie didn’t know was that a smart TV could compromise her privacy.

"It is really is creepy. You just never know, people watching you. That's really weird," said Johnson.

Samsung is one of several manufacturers that offer smart TVs with built-in cameras and microphones. They responded to our inquiry about consumer privacy with this statement:

“Samsung takes all concerns regarding consumer privacy and information security very seriously… The camera and microphone are integrated into the TV to provide users with innovative new ways to control the TV as well as make video conference calls. Should the TV owner choose not to use these features, the camera and microphone can easily be disabled. The camera can be tucked into the bezel of the TV to disable it. The TV owner can also unplug the TV from the home network when the Smart TV features are not in use.”

If you’re an online shopper wanting to purchase a smart TV over the Internet, the Better Business Bureau urges you to be extra careful because websites claiming to sell new smart TVs may be fraudulent, and the person selling you the device could have installed spyware on it beforehand.

"One way you can tell if it's a secure website - the URL will have the 'https' and the 's' stands for secure. There should also be a little padlock on the webpage that also determines if it's a secure website," said Margo Monreal from the Better Business Bureau of El Paso.

Armes adds – hackers will generally target people of interest, like celebrities or politicians. Nonetheless, he says it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

“Be careful what you do in front of your TV," said Armes.

When connecting your smart TV to the Internet, experts recommend that you encrypt your wireless router, which means you should always have a password on your internet router so that a stranger can’t access the devices in your home.

It’s like locking your front door. Nobody can break into your smart TV without the key. 

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