Allyson Haynes Stuart, Preventing Your New Smart TV from Being Big Brother

AllysonA California law [1] that went into effect January 1, 2016 aims to protect the privacy of consumers who may be unaware of the extent to which the “internet of things” has invaded their living rooms or bedrooms. Assembly Bill 1116 targets smart televisions that have voice recognition features, and requires manufacturers of those TVs to prominently inform users of those features during the initial setup or installation. The bill also restricts manufacturers and third parties who contract with them from selling or using for any advertising purpose any actual recordings of conversations collected through the voice recognition feature. In addition, the bill prohibits anyone from forcing an entity providing the voice recognition feature to create technology that would allow an investigative or law enforcement officer to monitor communications through that feature.

California Assemblyman Mike Gatto, an author of the statute, stated that the law was prompted by reports that televisions can record and transmit private conversations back to the manufacturer or a third-party without the knowledge of the user. He stated:

Imagine a television that records and transmits conversations in the privacy of your bedroom. Then imagine words meant to be heard only by your spouse being reviewed by strangers, to discern your personal tastes. This scenario sounds like something straight out of 1984, but it’s real, and it might be in your home right now [2].

California law already prohibits satellite or cable television corporations from using any electronic device to record, transmit, observe or listen in on events or conversations in a subscriber’s residence, workplace, or place of business, without obtaining the express written consent of the subscriber [3]. This new statute requires manufacturers to ensure their television’s voice-recognition feature cannot be enabled without the consumer’s knowledge or consent, and prohibits manufacturers from using recordings in a way not intended by the consumer. As Gatto says

“In that way, it preserves the ability to control a television with voice commands, or to make a Skype call using a television, but prohibits manufacturers from using recorded speech to generate targeted advertisements.” [4]

The statute is enforceable by the California Attorney General or by a district attorney, but does not contain a private right of action. Violators may be hit with civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each connected TV sold or leased in contravention of the statute.

For more information, Allyson Haynes Stuart




[3] California Penal Code Section 637.5; available at


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