Maybe you saw the news reports this week about the teen whose devices were taken away - and used the family’s smart fridge to tweet to her pals.
Experts have since cast doubt on the viral story - although fridge manufacturer LG has confirmed that some of its smart products do in fact have social media capability (!).
But the point remains.
Our homes are increasingly crowded with internet-connected gear - from fridges and stereo speakers to toys, cars and clothes. The experts call this phenomenon “the internet of things.” And it’s given us the means to connect online using objects that have never traditionally been associated with computers.
An obvious example? Your family’s smart TV.
Smart TVs and their cousins, “connected TVs,” use your home WiFi to connect to the internet. And although many adult users are unaware of it, smart TV technology allows savvy users to easily navigate between streaming services, online gaming and social media - exactly as they would on a smartphone, tablet or computer.
Today’s smart TVs can be used to send email, browse the web, download apps, shop online, access music and of course view a huge array of unregulated screen content. They open up a vast world of information and entertainment. But they also invite risk.
It’s been less than a decade since the first internet-connected TVs made their Australian debut. But within a very few years, nearly every new television model released by a major manufacturer was featuring smart technology, with the kind of functionality once reserved for gaming consoles, media hubs and PCs.
So-called dumb TVs are still manufactured today - mostly by lower-end imported brands. But these too can now easily connect to the internet through popular interfaces like Apple TV or the Fetch box to access streaming services (Netflix, Stan, YouTube) and catch-up apps. These are referred to as “connected TVs.”
Smart and connected TVs have now overtaken computers and laptops as the most popular devices for viewing screen content. And penetration is expected to grow even more rapidly over the next few years, as the NBN and 5G turbo-charge the experience of downloading and streaming content, say industry forecasters.
The benefits of smart TV technology are obvious - but they come bundled with some real risks.
An internet connected, voice-enabled TV has the capability to track what you are searching and watching. With this information, they can serve ads catered to your way of life. Most smart TVs come with the option for you to turn off such tracking, but it may not be the default setting.
And, like any other connected device, smart TVs can be hacked to gain access to inbuilt cameras, stored files and social media data. Some users have even chosen to disconnect their smart TVs after a 2015 scandal involving a range of Samsung devices with voice recognition that were listening to their owners 24 hours a day.
Experts advise that, to be extra safe:
Managing streaming content
“Every phone and device in the family — and every smart TV — needs a good quality external parental control.”
Maggie Dent, parenting expert
The controversy over the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why highlighted for many parents the need to monitor and manage streaming content. The high-rating series was widely criticised for romanticising teen suicide, and even for contributing to a rise in the death toll.
Fears surrounding copy-cat suicides prompted the producers to add a content warning to its second season.
Yet many parents are unaware that they can - and should - manage smart TVs, just as they would any other connected device their children access. The Family Zone Box empowers mums and dads to do exactly that, in a few simple steps.
The Box, which has been accredited through the Family Friendly Filters scheme, as recommended by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, allows parents to manage what kids see on smart and connected TVs, and when they see it.
In fact, the Box can apply parental controls to every device that connects to the home network - including gaming consoles and guest devices.
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