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Love Your New TCL or Hisense 4K Smart TV? The Chinese Government Made That TV.

Salvatore Babones

The era of the smart TV has arrived, and if you're like most people, you found the deals coming out of China just too good to pass up.

Sales of Chinese-made TCL televisions have risen to second place in the North American market, with other Chinese brands in hot pursuit. And don't think that just because you splurge on a fancy Sharp or Toshiba TV, you're buying a famous Japanese brand. Both are now been made by Hisense, China's bargain-basement brand specialist.

The world is addicted to cheap Chinese electronics. In the days of picture tubes and VCRs, that hardly mattered. As long as it worked long enough to become obsolete, any old brand was fine. And with most electronics becoming obsolete within five years, China's quality was good enough.

But when it comes to smart TVs, it's not the hardware that becomes obsolete the moment you leave the store. It's the software.

The very first thing you have to do after you power up your brand-new smart TV is connect it to the internet so that it can install updates. And the updates keep installing, month after month, for as long as you want to keep watching your TV. Only a true tech-head even knows that it's happening, never mind what it is doing. The rest of us just enable auto-updates and walk away.

Should we be worried?

Well, your smart TV is unlikely to download an electrostatic overload virus, go into sparky mode, and blow up your living room -- though if it ever does, you heard it here first. But your TV could download Chinese government spying software, report your viewing habits to Beijing, and (if it has a camera) enter your face into China's social credit scoring system. If your taste in television programming isn't quite up to the standards of China's official censors, they could just turn it off. That might be the worst punishment of all.

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