If you’ve bought a television in the past few years, chances are it was a smart TV. According to the Leichman Research Group, 31% of Americans now use a smart TV, while a further 74% of U.S. TV households have at least one Internet-connected TV device as of this May.

Last week the FBI issued a warning on its website about the dangers of using a smart TV. In a press release out of the Oregon Field Office the FBI stated:

“A number of the newer TV’s also have built-in cameras. In some cases, the cameras are used for facial recognition so the TV knows who is watching and can suggest programming appropriately. There are also devices coming to market that allow you to video chat. Beyond the risk that your TV manufacturer and app developers may be listening and watching you, that television can also be a gateway for hackers to come into your home. A bad cyber actor may not be able to access your locked-down computer directly, but it is possible that your unsecured TV can give him or her an easy way in the backdoor through your router.”

The TV watches you

The warning goes on to say hackers could conceivably take control of your TV, change the channels and mess with the volume. “In a worst-case scenario,” the FBI notes, “they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyber-stalk you.”

Before you begin to panic, be aware that the chances of this happening are relatively low, with only a few reported incidents of hacking.

Several visitors to the website were concerned enough to ask the FBI to issue a series of guidelines to help them protect their privacy.

How to stay safe, according to the FBI

  • Know exactly what features your TV has and how to control those features. Do a basic Internet search with your model number and the words “microphone,” “camera,” and “privacy.”
  • Don’t depend on the default security settings. Change passwords if you can — and know how to turn off the microphones, cameras, and collection of personal information if possible. If you can’t turn them off, consider whether you are willing to take the risk of buying that model or using that service.
  • If you can’t turn off a camera but want to, a simple piece of black tape over the camera eye is a back-to-basics option.
  • Check the manufacturer’s ability to update your device with security patches. Can they do this? Have they done it in the past?
  • Check the privacy policy for the TV manufacturer and the streaming services you use. Confirm what data they collect, how they store that data, and what they do with it.