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Privacy

Gadgets That Spy On Us: Way More Than TVs 130

Presto Vivace writes with a reminder that it's not just Samsung TVslots of other gadgets are spying on you "But Samsung's televisions are far from the only seeing-and-listening devices coming into our lives. If we're going to freak out about a Samsung TV that listens in on our living rooms, we should also be panicking about a number of other emergent gadgets that capture voice and visual data in many of the same ways. .... Samsung's competitor, the LG Smart TV, has basically the same phrase about voice capture in its privacy policy: "Please be aware that if your spoken word includes personal or other sensitive information, such information will be among the Voice Information captured through your use of voice recognition features." It isn't just TVs, Microsoft's xBox Kinect, Amazon Echo, GM's Onstar, Chevrolet's MyLink and PDRs, Google's Waze, and Hello's Sense all have snooping capabilities. Welcome to the world of Stasi Tech.
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Gadgets That Spy On Us: Way More Than TVs

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hipsters and upper middle class snobs. They've already long ago handed over their privacy.

    • by grimmjeeper ( 2301232 ) on Thursday February 19, 2015 @02:17PM (#49089687) Homepage
      I don't see too many hipsters driving GM cars.
      • by mlts ( 1038732 ) on Thursday February 19, 2015 @02:42PM (#49089957)

        GM cars seem to be relatively rare in my neck of the woods. For college students, Kias, Hyundas, VWs and Mazdas have that market, with the Toyota models after that.

        I really don't like GM's ability to disable any vehicle, anywhere. I'm reminded of an Austin dealer which installed devices to disable vehicles if the buyer didn't pay their loan payment... and a disgruntled ex-employee logged on as a valid employee, disabled all vehicles in the system and set them to honk until the batteries went dead. Wasn't a relatively big thing... but if someone did hack GM, the damage they could do with OnStar could be tremendous... for example, if there is a forest fire, hurricane or a disaster causing an evacuation, killing all GM vehicles in that area can turn the disaster into a catastrophe with extreme loss of life, just because the GM cars stalled would prevent movement of everything else.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          maybe "rare" within your specific locale and amongst your peers, but general motors sells a lot of cars, and they ALL have built in cellular-based speakerphone whether it's enabled (subscribed to onstar) or not. that feature can be enabled remotely by the automaker, and they can also access door locks, gps, and ignition systems, too, among other things. and, iirc, they have done so at the 'request' of certain agencies on numerous occasions.

          • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Thursday February 19, 2015 @03:31PM (#49090435) Homepage

            Tug. Tug. All you have to do is unplug the Onstar box. The hardest part is apparently finding where they hid the box.

            No magic, not even any tin foil!

            • by Anonymous Coward

              All you have to do is unplug the Onstar box. The hardest part is apparently finding where they hid the box.

              Some of the more modern GM vehicles have the entire onboard computer routed through the onstar system. If you remove it, the vehicle won't work anymore. It's one way GM forces you to leave onstar in your vehicle, regardless if you have it enabled or not.

              • Apparently you can open up the onstar box and remove the connector from the main board to the radio board. You kill onstar without killing your car. And since it's just a simple connector, it's easy to reverse the procedure any time you want. A more drastic measure is to find the wire that goes to the antenna, cut it and properly terminate the wire to kill all radio signals going in and out of the box.
          • by Agripa ( 139780 )

            maybe "rare" within your specific locale and amongst your peers, but general motors sells a lot of cars,

            And having owned one GM pickup and worked on other GM vehicles, I can say through personal experience that they are all junk and have been junk for at least 2 decades.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          If you think Kia, Hyundia, VW, Mazdas, et al. Can't remotely disable their newer cars too, you're gonna have a bad time.

          • Most of them dont have 2 way communications capabilities that they can track down, so how exactly do you think they can remotely disable them?

            Or are you just FUDing on behalf on Onstar?

        • GM cars seem to be relatively rare in my neck of the woods. For college students, Kias, Hyundas, VWs and Mazdas have that market, with the Toyota models after that.

          I really don't like GM's ability to disable any vehicle, anywhere. I'm reminded of an Austin dealer which installed devices to disable vehicles if the buyer didn't pay their loan payment... and a disgruntled ex-employee logged on as a valid employee, disabled all vehicles in the system and set them to honk until the batteries went dead. Wasn't a relatively big thing... but if someone did hack GM, the damage they could do with OnStar could be tremendous... for example, if there is a forest fire, hurricane or a disaster causing an evacuation, killing all GM vehicles in that area can turn the disaster into a catastrophe with extreme loss of life, just because the GM cars stalled would prevent movement of everything else.

          Trouble is, every automaker is going the same direction. If not now, they are working on it for the future. They may not have all the bells and whistles as OnStar but tracking vehicles through the various methods of GPS, navigation traffic feed, satellite radio, and cell phone integration is going to become a lot more commonplace. There's just too much money to be made tracking you. The only way to really prevent that kind of intrusion into your privacy is to get completely off the grid and live in the

    • Try anyone with an Android phone. On the play store, every google app (and several others) require the ability to record audio and video without your consent--and unlike iOS, you can't adjust the privacy app by app, permission by permission. We all know iOS isn't perfect, but they are way ahead of Google on privacy.

      • On the play store, every google app (and several others) require the ability to record audio and video without your consent

        No, they don't. They require your explicit consent before installing. Don't you read the damn warnings?

        and unlike iOS, you can't adjust the privacy app by app, permission by permission. We all know iOS isn't perfect, but they are way ahead of Google on privacy.

        Well, sort of. I wouldn't say that iOS was "ahead of Google on privacy". Rather, Google is way ahead of iOS on intrusion. Don't for a minute think the inability to set these permissions was accidental.

        Granted, iOS is better than Google products for privacy. On the other hand, a lot of the "control" over privacy in Apple products is directly in the hands of Apple, and there is no guarantee Apple will sta

        • You could say I consented to Chrome being installed (it can't be uninstalled) but not connecting to that is the same as having an android device that is a brick.

          "On the other hand, a lot of the 'control' over privacy in Apple products is directly in the hands of Apple, and there is no guarantee Apple will stay friendly."

          Uh, all of the control is in Apple's hands, and I'd rather have the device that is currently friendly then the device that is currently taking a crap on me and laughing.

    • Hipsters and upper middle class snobs. They've already long ago handed over their privacy.

      WTF do those two demographics have to do with each other except that you hate both of them? Plenty of people use those things, as pointed out in other posts.

      Your comment is more a reflection on you than on anything found in reality.

  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Thursday February 19, 2015 @01:47PM (#49089377)

    people wanted voice control and they got it

    • by pnutjam ( 523990 ) <slashdot.borowicz@org> on Thursday February 19, 2015 @02:54PM (#49090071) Homepage Journal
      I have a hard time thinking of anything stupider then voice control. It's a great niche for the disabled, but I fail to see the need, or "cool factor" in shouting at my electronics.
      I blame Gene Rodenberry, what a dick.
      • by alen ( 225700 )

        it was in star trek and all the geeks were going crazy about Siri, google now and whatever

      • by dave420 ( 699308 )

        It can be pretty useful, actually. I was cooking dinner the other night and needed to set a timer. My hands were caked in all sorts of gunk from the food I was making. I turned to my phone and said "OK, Google - set a timer for 10 minutes", and it did it. And last night I was watching a movie with my fiancée, and we thought the actor in it might have played some other character in a TV show we watch, so I simply asked my phone. It took a couple of seconds, and gave us the precise answer.

        It's

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      No, phones already had the capability. A telephone without a microphone would not go over well.

    • Yes, but I think most figured that the data would at least be half-asstly encrypted for transit to the server farm for processing, but leave it to Samsung to even screw that up.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Come on slashdot, stop deleting the NSA hard drive backdoor news submissions, it's already all over the net, even non geek sites are all over it.

    You call this a geek site? Stuff that matters my ass.

    HUGE SPY PROGRAM EXPOSED: NSA has hidden software in hard drives around the world
    Is the NSA Hiding in Your Hard Drive? [bloomberg.com]
    NSA Has Ability To Hide Spying Software Deep Within Hard Drives: Cyber Researchers [huffingtonpost.com]
    Is Your Hard Drive Hiding NSA Spyware? [ign.com]
    The NSA hides surveillance software in hard drives [engadget.com]
    'Breakthrough' NSA spyware [www.cbc.ca]

  • I don't own or use anything mentioned in that article and intend to keep it that way.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 19, 2015 @02:05PM (#49089557)

      But other people may not be so vigilant or aware. You go visit someone at there house and talk politics never noticing th IOT devices that are streaming your conversation from the living room.

    • by gfxguy ( 98788 )
      I like Waze, but already accept being tracked (at least) while I'm driving. I don't have a "smart" TV, though, and don't want one. Is that even an option anymore? I prefer components I can replace instead of built in doo-dads.
    • I own a Samsung SmartTV, but I have voice control disabled because I cannot get a robot to understand my thick accent when I speak in English.
  • Is apparently how the average person and media assumed these devices worked.
  • Stasi Tech? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Virtucon ( 127420 ) on Thursday February 19, 2015 @01:52PM (#49089433)

    I think that's a pretty harsh term. When used by a repressive regime this technology could be used for doing bad things but if people want voice commands in their lives they have to realize that some of this "snooping" is necessary. Why? Because voice processing and searching on the scale of some of the applications such as SIRI require centralized processing. Therefore your voice commands have to be sent someplace else and processed. Also this kind of technology isn't exactly new and things like Web Cams on laptops aren't immune from even local school districts snooping on students. [wikipedia.org] The point is that the technology is introducing new possible attack vectors on your privacy and allowing not only corporations but even governments to potentially abuse your trust in the devices you use. I'm sure it's happened but I'll bet Apple has been subpoenaed for the SIRI requests from a suspected murderer or drug kingpin much like they'll ask Google for search queries from a suspect. That's why laws must be updated and the public made aware that there's a price to pay for all this ease of use. Oh in respect to LG, LG also says that any media you connect to their device will be potentially scanned including things like file names so start getting rid of those unused sex vids because the Chinese are watching your porn.

    • Re:Stasi Tech? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday February 19, 2015 @02:47PM (#49090019) Homepage

      I think that's a pretty harsh term. When used by a repressive regime this technology could be used for doing bad things

      The problem is that governments have given themselves permission to go in and get any of this data.

      Which means it is pretty much inevitable that these shiny toys really are going to be Stasi Tech .. only people have signed up willingly for it, using terms which can be changed at the whim of the company ... and the governments will just demand the data.

      Sorry, but you really can't sound paranoid enough about just how these technologies are likely to be abused.

      Either from greedy corporations looking to make a buck off you, or governments who demand that same data to spy on you when it would be illegal for them to do it.

      • SO opt out. Don't use SIRI, it's easy to set up a firewall in your house and disable certain services. Even CNET has an article that pertains to Samsung. Sure a hacker or a government could get at it in other ways, shit just install a listening device in your house or a GPS tracker on your car... Oh wait, that's been done too. That's why I said the laws had to be updated. You'll never ever get the government, any government, to stop snooping on you whether it's by direct means or indirect means like re

    • Re:Stasi Tech? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by rhysweatherley ( 193588 ) on Thursday February 19, 2015 @02:49PM (#49090035)

      Why? Because voice processing and searching on the scale of some of the applications such as SIRI require centralized processing. Therefore your voice commands have to be sent someplace else and processed.

      At the moment. As the technology improves more and more will be done client side because round-tripping audio is stupid if you could do it locally. If SIRI or something like it was completely local, then there would be no issue. Unfortunately there has been little or no work on practical on-the-spot voice recognition lately because the money is all in spying - be it for surveillance or ads.

      It's not like appliance controls are complicated - there's only a handful of "TV: Change channel to ESPN" or "Kettle: Tea, Earl Grey, Hot" phrases that need to be trained in. But since the business models of operators like Nuance are predicated on licensing access to their huge server farms, no other option is even considered except the one that destroys privacy.

      We need regulation - no server-side processing of client-side controls. If you could do it locally, then you MUST.

      • Well SIRI and your iPhone can't catalog the Internet so even if the IVR could be processed there would be tangible external activity to make some of it work. Queries like "When's my next appointment" or "Call My Wife" could be local but then where's your calendar located and where's your address book maintained?

        • by vux984 ( 928602 )

          Well SIRI and your iPhone can't catalog the Internet so even if the IVR could be processed there would be tangible external activity to make some of it work.

          Nobody expects otherwise.

          Queries like "When's my next appointment" or "Call My Wife" could be local but then where's your calendar located and where's your address book maintained?

          locally i'd hope, and then sync'd online (owncloud in my case). Because getting on a plane or walking into the woods should not lose my access to calendar and contacts (or maps for that matter -- which is why I use a mapping app with local maps). Google maps is great for a lot of things, but too often its stranded me due to not having a fast enough data connection to operate efficiently, or in many cases has no data connection at all.

          I want a system where either I have to confirm it

      • by chihowa ( 366380 )

        That's also the reason that IoT devices only work with the cooperation of the mothership. For example, there's only so much processing you need to make a very advanced, responsive, and predictive thermostat. It can all be handled with ample headroom by modern low power devices, even if certain data needs to be fetched from the internet (like predicted weather). Yet still the processing is offloaded.

        As you said, the justification in many cases is that local hardware cannot handle the task. The motivation is

    • Because voice processing and searching on the scale of some of the applications such as SIRI require centralized processing.

      I don't buy it. These sentiments jumble a number of separable components.

      Have a 10 year old device was able to do local speech recognition including arbitrary voice shortcuts and search without training. I would tell it to play song x or anything from artist y and it would most of the time get it right and just do it all offline and all on hardware at least an order of magnitude less capable than what is available today.

      There are PC software packages such as Dragon and Sphinx able to do free-form speech t

    • voice processing and searching on the scale of some of the applications such as SIRI require centralized processing

      Only in the short term. Longer term, it will be doable on-device. Of course, a server farm/supercomputer will always provide superior processing capability, but at some point it becomes "good enough" on less capable devices.

    • by Trogre ( 513942 )

      Look, if you really want the alleged convenience of basic appliances connected to the Internet then you're playing tic-tac-toe with power-hungry governments and greedy companies.

      The only way to win is to not play.

  • LG TV (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Thursday February 19, 2015 @01:54PM (#49089447) Homepage
    I have an LG TV and it has a stupid voice recognition feature. You have to press a button on the remote for it to start listening to you. The feature is pretty much completely useless. I tried it a few times when I first got the TV, but quickly found that it's pretty much worthless. The rest of the TV works really well though, and I have no complaints. I don't see the purpose of even building this feature into the TV. Nobody will use it, and nobody is going to make a TV buying decision based on rather or not it has voice recognition. Except maybe some people who will specifically be looking for a TV that doesn't have the feature.
    • by gfxguy ( 98788 )

      Is that you, Bawwy Kwipke?

      I agree... I'd rather have separate streaming devices that cost a fraction of the TV and can be replaced when the technology improves instead of having it built in to the most expensive component. I marvel at the people buying really expensive cars with iPhone connectivity... and then Apple changes the connector on it's newer version.

      Give me generic, or give me death!

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Wish granted, drone dispatched!

    • I actually spent quite some time recently looking for non-smart TVs... and couldn't find any at all I wanted. So I bought an LG smart TV.

      During the install, I had to agree to the Terms and Conditions and the Privacy Policy. There was also a Viewing agreement that says I agree to them monitoring what I watch, what buttons I push, and so on. I didn't agree to that one. There was also another one I can't recall, which I also didn't agree to. I think that one was about letting them insert advertising.

      The T

      • So I disconnected it from the internet, and so it shall remain.

        Are you sure it's really disconnected? If it has WiFi, it could auto-connect to any available, "open" access point.

        I suppose one possibility would be to setup a "dummy" access point and configure the TV to connect to it. But, it's possible the TV, unable to "phone home", could auto-reconnect to any available, "open" access point.

        • So I disconnected it from the internet, and so it shall remain.

          Are you sure it's really disconnected? If it has WiFi, it could auto-connect to any available, "open" access point.

          The scene: two years from now:
          Me: TV- turn on and switch to "The X-factor: pro-wrestling special"
          TV: I'm sorry ...Dave, I can't allow that to happen.

          Just hope that the TVs don't learn to lipread,,,,

    • by chihowa ( 366380 )

      I have no interest in this at all, either, but your case highlights another reason why the computing is offloaded to remote servers. Assuming that you didn't like feature because it didn't work well (and not because it is stupid and redundant), the manufacturer can constantly improve the feature's recognition and lexicon if it isn't baked into the device itself.

      Of course, the valid reasons would carry more weight if the companies didn't seem to get so excited about the creepy reasons.

    • Another LG TV owner here ...

      I want to echo what the parent said. LG TVs are decent in general. The voice feature is just a gimmick added to make the company/product look cool. Perhaps it gains some WOWs when demoed in store. But in real life, its voice recognition is subpar, and the feature does not get used much. And yes, you have to press a button on the remote for the TV to listen (via a mic in the remote in my case).

    • Me: [Pickup Remote and press talk button] Hello TV, switch to channel six [puts down remote]
      TV: Hello Dave. Switching to channel 239. Currently playing Barely legal 17. There are 27 other sex related channels to chose from.
      Kids: Daddy what is that girl...
      Me: [Madly fumbling for remote and presses talk button] Stupid TV! I said six. Did you not hear me! SIX! I SAID SIX!
      TV: Hello Dave. Switching to channel 666. Currently playing the 24hour antichrist sermon. There are 90 other religion related channels to cho

  • The irony (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Henrik Gullaksen ( 2878597 ) on Thursday February 19, 2015 @01:54PM (#49089451)

    The first thing I saw when I open the article was "Like us on Facebook"
    An article about whats tracking us. But wont you just lets us track you as well before you read it. :-)

  • I only play pre Game Cube consoles, pirate all my movies unless I find them for $2 at a pawn shop, still using older "no smart" LCD tv's. When time comes to replace the tv's to the projctors I go.

  • by EMG at MU ( 1194965 ) on Thursday February 19, 2015 @02:04PM (#49089547)
    I feel that most technically literate people at least knew that this kind of "spying" was technically trivial and obviously monetizable. Any device with some kind of a network connection and a microphone / camera can easily record everything you do and say and send it anywhere it wants. This little company called Google figured out that by collecting more and more information about you they can make huge sums of money by mining and selling that data and now everyone wants in on that game.

    I feel like most comments here will be along the lines of "yeah duh what did you think they were doing with that data", however on less tech focused sites the comments will have the tone of "OMG evil corporations spying on us how is this even legal, hold on let me ask Siri!"

    But that is the problem. The general population has no idea how every time they use a thing like Siri or Kinect, or OnStar they are allowing the respective companies that created those services nearly unlimited access to their microphone or camera. Just like people really don't understand how Facebook monetizes their profile and activities.

    I think until there is general knowledge of the fact that we have entered the era of generating revenue from users through mining and analyzing their activities, preferences, and other data, we can't even have a productive discussion about the limits of these new ways to collect information. Right now it is just fear mongering and attention grabbing headlines.

    Lets get to the point where we can have a rational discourse about the benefits and potential risks of ever present microphones and cameras and develop both moral and legal guidelines to govern their use.
    • I don't fully agree that the general public is so unaware of the capabilities. I think they have generally gotten complacent and resigned to the idea that this is just how it is now. They think the privacy losses that they generally think of as trivial, don't have that much impact. The impact really isn't felt by the average person. They use Facebook and a multitude of apps and gadgets and they don't see any current tangible evidence of harm. Many people don't know what McCarthyism was let alone have any pe
      • ... Much like we have a national do-not-call registry, we need a national do-not-track registry that covers the individual and any information source they choose to register.

        Wrong. We need a DO-call registry and a DO-track register. Privacy should be the default state. I should have to opt IN to being called by tele-marketers, spammed, tracked etc, not opt out.

        • I certainly agree in theory, but I'm a realist on this one. In order to truly have anything and everything be opt-in to the extent we'd want it would kill tens if not hundreds of billions in commerce. It would be a political non-starter. If it went anywhere with legislators they would poke so many loopholes in it, most of the value would be lost. I'd much rather have a real opt-out in a central database that puts legal teeth behind any violation as well as other obvious stuff like forcing respect for do-not

    • While surely there are many technically inept people who don't care, there are two distinct issues with the Samsung TV. The attempts to deflect blame don't change these two, and make Samsung look more untrustworthy.

      1. Transparency - Burying the tidbit about sending your data to a 3rd party should not have happened. This should be a unique warning screen that a user must agree to before the service is activated. This leads directly to the main item, 2..

      2. Always On - Samsung did something that even Appl

  • It isn't just TVs, Microsoft's xBox Kinect, Amazon Echo, GM's Onstar, Chevrolet's MyLink and PDRs, Google's Waze, and Hello's Sense all have snooping capabilities.

    Check, check, and check; I don't have any of those devices, I don't own a smartphone (Moto RAZR2 v9, and it's turned off most of the time anyway), and I don't even have a camera or microphone connected to any computer I own. I just bought a new TV, Samsung in fact, and it is NOT a 'smart TV', just a basic 39" HDTV.

    Just don't buy these technologies in the first place.

    • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Thursday February 19, 2015 @02:31PM (#49089839)

      my last tv purchase 'had' to be smart. why? because I wanted to buy from a trusted store (costco), they have only a limited of in-store brands and since I refused to buy samsung (at any cost), that left vizio. after 39" (or 37) they only sell them in 'smart' versions, sigh. so mine is smart.

      but I never accepted the eula, it never init'd the network layer, it sits there with 0.0.0.0 on it (if I ever go to that screen) and the only down side is that I won't get firmware updates. but the good side is: I wont' get firmware updates! LOL

      in fact, it is an upside. people are complaining about the latest forced no-choice OTA firmware that people got. they all want to revert. and so, my never-been-on-the-net tv will never have to be reverted. it works as a display device, the colors look ok once I calibrated it with my puck and my htpc system has never been better (intel onboard video, i7 fanless build, 1920 hdmi at 120hz real actual refresh. very nice!)

      but to get that, I had to pay for a smart tv. which means I helped support this silliness with my money. for that, I'm sorry, but I didn't have a lot of real choice..

      • I got a 52" SHARP AQUOS set at costco some years ago and it is still chugging along faithfully with no "smart" hooha in it. I have an android stick hanging off the back of the TV, though. Since it's rockchip-based there's a community and I've been able to get updates.

      • they have only a limited of in-store brands and since I refused to buy samsung (at any cost),

        What's wrong with Samsung?

    • by BobSwi ( 607571 )
      It's getting more pervasive though. You already can't buy an Ultra HD TV without it being 'smart', i.e. it wants internet connectivity. Pretty soon any electronic you'll need to purchase will have a phone home/networked requirement, you know, for your convenience.
  • iPhone not mentioned in this summary, though it has been mentioned in the past that Siri was enough to get iPhones banned from secure locations.

  • I always wondered how hard it would be for an ISP to hide a microphone in all their ADSL/Cable Box.

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday February 19, 2015 @02:35PM (#49089877) Homepage

    I've been saying for years all of these devices which want to be connected to the internet were a privacy and security shitstorm just waiting to happen.

    That it's being shown as true is far from gratifying.

    Corporations don't give a crap about your security or privacy.

    Stop rewarding them with your money for some shiny baubles which are doing nothing but spying on you and monitizing everything you do.

    • Stop rewarding them with your money for some shiny baubles which are doing nothing but spying on you and monitizing everything you do.

      I do, actually, wonder if anyone has run this through Excel. Consider the following scenario:
      Acme TVs makes a "Smart TV", intending to monetize the information gained from viewing habits and similar. Suppose said TV retails for 400USD. Does that sticker price reflect a subsidy from the marketing data they're expecting to get? If so, then the best thing we can do is to buy these TVs, then never connect them to the internet. This way, they've spent $425 to sell me a TV for $400. Either TV prices will go up, o

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I live in a state where "all parties" must consent to be recorded. Even it can be argued that the owner "consents" by accepting the EULA, what about guests, family members and others that happen to be near the device? Are the the manufactures liable when there is no off switch for monitoring?

    The summary of laws regarding consent and wiretap I use is "http://www.rcfp.org/reporters-recording-guide/introduction".

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