Be smart about privacy when buying smart TVs
Be smart about privacy when buying smart TVs
10 MARCH 2017 8:00 AM

Smart TVs are in the news again, and while hoteliers don’t need to worry about the CIA spying on their guests, they should consider the implications about guest privacy with this newer technology.

Another week, another revelation that new technology brings with it more privacy concerns.

Whether you believe WikiLeaks’ latest information release about the Central Intelligence Agency’s ability to access smart TVs, it should be enough reason to think twice about buying such a television. The CIA allegations aside, it’s terrible that people need to worry about whether the TV they’re watching is watching them back.

The recent concerns about smart TVs listening in on people’s conversations are in the news only because of the WikiLeaks release. The revelation that smart TVs aren’t great for personal privacy is actually somewhat old news. The Washington Post reports electronics companies were accused of invading their customers’ privacy, including Vizio’s settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over collecting and sharing users’ data without permission.

“Samsung in 2015 drew criticism when its privacy policy included a warning telling people not to have private conversations too near their smart televisions in their own living rooms,” according to the article.

That’s absurd.

I don’t believe, for even a second, hoteliers need to worry the CIA is going to spy on their guests. That doesn’t mean, however, hoteliers should overlook any potential breaches of a guest’s privacy. While it won’t be the CIA listening in, it could be someone looking to steal guests’ private information. Even if a guest doesn’t read off his or her credit card number and security code within listening range of the TV’s microphone, I doubt guests would be comfortable with a device that could be listening to them beyond any voice commands and storing their conversations.

I’ve written about this kind of thing before, but it bears repeating: Think twice before purchasing a new piece of technology for your hotel just because it might be the big new thing. However, that might be more difficult as time goes on. The same Washington Post article states 28.7 million smart TVs are expected to be sold this year, about 72% of the total number of digital TVs projected to be sold in 2017. In the near future, every TV produced and sold will in some capacity be a smart TV.

When it comes time to purchase new TVs for your properties, don’t just blindly buy them because they’re smart TVs, they fit the screen size requirement and they’ve become the only TVs on the market. Research them, both in how they work as well as whether your guests actually want them in their rooms and if they’d use them as an actual smart TV.

If guests want to use all of the features of a smart TV, it makes economic sense for hotel companies to purchase them for guestrooms. However, guests shouldn’t have to blindly use technology that can listen in on them. Consider turning off the microphone and any voice-command feature as the default setting and leaving instructions for guests on how to turn them back on if that is what they’d prefer. Conversely, leave the feature on, but leave a notice for guests letting them know the TV has this function and it can be turned off by following a list of steps. Have your IT team run regular audits on the technology to make sure private information isn’t being stored and there’s no malicious software stored on them.

Err on the side of privacy. Hoteliers have a long history of protecting their guests’ privacy, to the point that guests have come to expect this during their stay. Though you might disagree with how the jury voted, the Erin Andrews’ case is an example of how much the public believes hotels should be responsible for a guest’s privacy. Hoteliers have also gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to protect their guests’ information from warrantless searches by the police. Continue to be a champion of your guests’ privacy and do what you can to minimize introducing anything that could threaten that.

Do you have smart TVs at your properties? How do you handle ones with microphones and voice-command capabilities? Share in the comment section below or contact me at and @HNN_Bryan

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