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Is Big Brother Watching Your Home Theater? Print E-mail
Friday, 14 May 2004

A lot has been said about how the FCC has gotten increasingly involved in their efforts to curb so-called “indecency.” However, a new threat of interruptions of personal freedoms and privacy may face the home theater enthusiast as audio/video gear gets more technically sophisticated.

As ports to the Internet, computers have become a necessary part of our work and personal lives. Audio/video equipment is now starting to connect to the Internet for software updates and data needed to run music and movie servers, along with other advanced feats like TiVo2 units, which consumers can program from a remote location. While these conveniences are making our home theaters more self-sufficient, they also open us up to potential corporate scrutiny and privacy violations. Without sounding too paranoid, imagine the following. What if an AV manufacturer started tracking the music you have on your music server because they were fearful of a suit from record labels or a music industry watch-dog group? Clearly, you are not supposed to possess music that was illegally downloaded off the Internet. What if a handful of the songs you might have picked up back in the day of Napster (there were 54,000,000 users reportedly at one point) were encoded with tags needed to track the files by record labels at a later date? Is it possible you could be a part of one of these now famous John Doe lawsuits?

At AudioRevolution.com, we encourage our readers to watch whatever movies they like on your system (as long as it’s not something like snuff films or kiddy porn), but what if companies or government agencies wanted to know more specifically what you were watching? Imagine you have one of these hot new video servers loaded with your favorite movies on DVD, including a good number of adult films. At a reported $18,000,000,000 per year in sales in the adult industry, it is pretty likely that a few of our readers have a couple of smut-ridden DVDs in their collections. How else would they get to test the multiple-angle feature on their DVD players – right? Imagine a scenario where someone was running for school board president or local political office in a conservative neighborhood and local political enemies wanted to paint this person to be something less than a wholesome American. Would it be that hard to hack the player, especially now that wireless networks (often unsecured) are popping up in houses in house all over the world? In some cases, hacking into an unsecured wireless network can be done by a savvy hacker from right in front of your home without you ever knowing about it. They may not be after your email address book or looking to send spam, but rather looking for private information about you and what you like to watch on your AV system. Imagine a situation where a high profile audio/video enthusiast, such as sports star, corporate leader or a Hollywood celebrity, had his or her movie collection or TV watching habits become public knowledge thanks to a security leak from the data that can now be collected about your theater and your viewing and listening habits? Would a tabloid pay $10,000 for a story about a major star having German fetish DVDs on their video server? You bet they would.

The idea of connecting AV gear to the Internet is the logical next step to extending the power of vast databases to make your entertainment opportunities better than ever before. The way an iPod pulls data about music from the CDDB database in nothing short of miraculous. But with this new power comes dramatically increased responsibility on the part of service providers and AV manufacturers to protect your privacy in a world (especially today’s United States) where your personal freedoms might not get as much respect as they used to do. We are in no way are we suggesting that you avoid buying components that connect to the Internet. What we are suggesting is that you carefully read the often one-sided privacy policies before you load up your music server or your new DVD jukebox. Moreover, if you are in a position (where you are being scrutinized by a divorce attorney, the local press and/or beyond) where someone may care about your entertainment tastes, use your good judgment when exposing any potentially embarrassing material to the world through the Internet. While it is very much a long shot that you would be exposed, it is a risk you just might not want to take.

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