"Come on in. Make yourself comfortable but please be careful my TV and the computer are both listening and recording every word." No I am not joking! The Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard released a report to warn consumers that many smart home devices have spying capabilities.
Do you remember the movie 1984 and 'Big Brother is watching you.' The characters Warren Smith and Julia commit the crime of falling in love. Reviewer Mattias Thuressonn wrote: "They try to escape Big Brothers listening and viewing devices but of course, no one can really escape."
Last year Forbes reported Samsung Smart TV can listen and record conversations. Samsung issued a policy saying, "Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of voice recognition. While Samsung will not collect your spoken word, Samsung may still collect associated texts and other usage data so that we can evaluate the performance of the feature and improve it."
The website hackread.com said: "Beware of Samsung Smart TVs – Voice Recognition could be recording and sharing private conversations."
They went on to say, "Digital age has brought along countless blessings and conveniences for the consumers but there are quite a few dangers associated with the Internet of Things (IoT) that are hard to ignore.
Let's take the example of this new discovery; the voice activation or voice recognition feature in Samsung smart TVs is, although very beneficial for entertainment buffs, does has its fair share of cons. Owners of their Smart TVs should be careful while making private conversations in front of their TVs if they use the voice activation feature. The reason... when this feature is enabled the TV set can "listen" to the audio and it might very well share it with third parties other than Samsung."
But wait, there's more! "What is less widely reported is the finding some time ago that cable TV and satellite boxes include microphones, and indeed have done since the earliest models, which means they appear to be designed to work as listening devices (bugs) in the average living room -- planted in millions of homes.
This would be a powerful facility, particularly in conjunction with the monitoring and speech recognition operation of Echelon/Prism, details of which were recently leaked by NSA whistle-blower Mr Snowden." (Your Own Technology is Spying on You – theinsider.org). The US director of national intelligence James Clapper confirmed that devices like thermostats, cameras and other appliances are connected to the internet and that provides spying possibilities.
Recently FBI director James Comey advised the webcams on laptop computers should be covered. "There's some sensible things you should be doing, and that's one of them," Comey said. "You go into any government office and we all have the little camera things that sit on top of the screen. They all have a little lid that closes down on them. You do that so that people who don't have authority don't look at you. I think that's a good thing." How creepy is this? Our privacy is shot. We are now living in a goal-fish bowl with Big Brother saying, "I spy with my little eye!"
Recently students were caught using smart technology to cheat in exams. At a medical college in Thailand they were caught using spy cameras on their smartwatches to obtain answers. Fortunately observers stopped the plot and foiled the plan. The university rector posted pictures of the hi-tech cheating equipment on his Facebook page. (Spy camera glasses used by the exam cheats – Arthrit Ouraira/Facebook). I even heard of a geek in the US, who used Apple's Siri to open the front door next door, without his neighbor knowing. How scary is that? He simply shouted, "Hey Siri open the front door." And Hey Presto!
Emails have become Adventureland for hackers. The media diet during the US presidential elections is fed daily by new emails that explode campaign speeches. What the candidate says in public is in total contradiction to what is said privately. I was not very encouraged to hear Eva Velasquez, Identity Theft Resource Centre president say, "There are two kind of consumers – those who know they've been breached, and those who don't!'
Australian Rio gold medallist Kim Brennan had her medical records hacked in an attack on the World Anti-Doping agency WADA by Russian based hackers Fancy Bears. Team-mates Alex Belonogoff and Jack Bobridge also had their personal details revealed. In the USA champion gymnast Simone Biles and tennis champions the Williams sisters were victims. None of these athletes did anything wrong but their personal and private medical details are now public knowledge.
US statesman Colin Powell was hacked and the details reported very widely, have proven to be embarrassing. It certainly would not be a good experience to have personal conversations revealed in all the graphic detail. Privately he expressed opinions on both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump the US presidential candidates. The media delighted to share the negatives with the world.
Privacy may well be a thing of the past. What with terrorism and violent attacks and now the spying access invading homes and lives, we have more reason to long for a place of comfort and safety. We are aware of the devil how he seeks our demise. The Bible says 'we are not ignorant of his devices.' (2 Corinthians Chapter 2, verse 11)
During my younger years I had to watch out that I did not get caught by dad or my schoolteachers. Now the vigilant surveillance might include our TV or my laptop. Fear is mentioned 326 times in the Bible but God says many times, 'Do not be afraid.' He exhorts us. "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." (Isaiah chapter 41, verse 10)
As a child I had a near death experience. I fractured my skull in a bicycle accident. The people of the small village of Bundanoon gathered at our church daily to pray for me. God answered those prayers and I came through without the operation. Our family has travelled the world serving the Lord. I am certain we were often under surveillance by authorities who detested our missionary zeal. God was faithful. He is faithful.
Even if your TV is checking you out, the Lord is your shield and your strength. While Big Brother is watching because of his evil intentions, our Father has his eyes on you to uplift, comfort, encourage and guide.
Let us sing, 'Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.' He is the only one who seeks to build us up and never tear us down.
Ron Ross is a Middle East consultant for United Christian Broadcasters (Vision FM). Previously he was radio news editor for Bridges for Peace in Jerusalem, Israel.
His career started at WINTV (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ron Ross previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/ron-ross.html