Tech companies that sell products containing internet-connected microphones and cameras could be required to affix labels informing customers of their presence.
In September 2019, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner introduced a bill to the Senate called the Protecting Privacy in Our Homes Act that proposed the very idea, citing consumers’ rights to privacy and transparency, according to PC Magazine. Specifically, the bill’s text calls for a requirement that the Federal Trade Commission “promulgate regulations requiring manufacturers to give notice to consumers” about whether or not products contain internet-connected cameras or microphones.
“Consumers face a number of challenges when it comes to their privacy, but they shouldn’t have a challenge figuring out if a device they buy has a camera or microphone embedded into it,” Gardner stated when he introduced the bill, according to Ars Technica.
The bill specifically states that it does not apply to devices “specifically marketed as a camera or microphone.” If signed into law, the legislation would define violations as unfair or deceptive practices specified under the Federal Trade Commission Act.
One example of a breach of consumer confidence related to recording devices occurred In February when Google admitted that it had made a labeling error by selling Nest home security devices without packaging or technical specifications informing customers of the presence of an in-device microphone. Another report from Ars Technica noted that the microphones were activated by Google the same month, at which point the company told Business Insider that the microphone was “never intended to be a secret.”
So far, no other lawmakers have signed on to the bill or expressed public support for it. According to GovTrack and Skopos Labs, the legislation has a three percent chance of becoming law. PC Magazine proposed that bill’s chances of passage could be strengthened by including labeling language informing customers as to whether or not they can disable embedded microphones or cameras. This year, Gardner introduced another piece of security (but not label)-related legislation with Sen. Mark Warner, with whom he co-chairs the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus. That bill – the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Act of 2019 – involves security standards for internet-connected devices.