Think your refrigerator might be spying on you? Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wants to help

Just when you wondered if your elected representatives were hard at work in Washington, advocating for you and getting things done on your behalf, Sen. Ted Cruz has authored legislation that just might win over that small but vocal — and, dare I say, paranoid — part of the population that thinks everyone and everything is spying on them.

On Nov. 18, the Texas Republican co-authored legislation with Sen.Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., called the “Informing Consumers about Smart Devices Act.” The bill would require the Federal Trade Commission to “create reasonable disclosure guidelines for products that have audio or visual recording components, such as refrigerators, washers, dryers and dishwashers that are not clearly obvious,” Cruz’s news release said.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during a Senate hearing in August.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during a Senate hearing in August.

The statement also pointed out that more and more household devices and appliances include cameras or microphones that can record their hosts and transmit data without their knowledge.

I wasn’t paranoid about much of this, but I might be now.

In the era of Alexa, Amazon’s “digital assistant” that plays music and makes grocery lists, but is also, quite obviously, constantly listening for her name and thus always listening to you, I find people fall into two camps: Those who shrug off the idea that a device is recording them and those who would never buy such a device in the first place.

As such, it’s not clear how much Cruz’s new legislation might change things: It’s hard to believe such disclosures don’t already exist in the fine print, anyway. But if a refrigerator manufacturer that had planned on secretly recording a customer is forced to put a warning label on the device, will that stop people from purchasing it?

Amazon doesn’t sell these obvious refrigerator recorders for nothing. But people who are freaked out by such a thing won’t buy it, and people who don’t care will buy it regardless.

It’s hard to even imagine how exciting or informative it might be for the dishwasher to record the kids reluctantly putting bowls back in the cupboard, but I suppose someone could blurt out their Social Security number? Same with the refrigerator. It might catch a few interesting tidbits of information between adults — after all, the kitchen is the heart of the home — but most of it’s going to be — well, about food and beverages, right?

It is true that now that so many devices are interconnected, hackers could break into a seemingly benign device only to wind up in your personal e-mail account. Such is the risk of technological advancement. Sure, you can turn down your thermostat from an app on your phone or look at your own camera to make sure you closed the garage, but do those conveniences matter if someone with ill-intent can use them to find your bank account number?

I appreciate Cruz’s efforts to crack down on the Chinese Communist Party, but the bipartisan effort to keep our dishwashers safe from spies seems overwrought to me. Then again, maybe the best thing we can get out of big government is help to prevent spying in all the weirdest places.