“If you think of the cheap 32-inch, 40-inch, 50-inch TVs — most of the TV manufacturers are lucky if they break even on those sets,” said Paul Gagnon, an analyst for IHS Markit. Profits typically come from larger sets.
Tracking software has also appeared as part of expensive models. David Kitchen, a software engineer in London who described his frustration with Samba TV’s tracking in last week’s Times article, said he had paid about 1,000 pounds (about $1,300) for a Sony Bravia set that asked him to enable the software.
At the end of last year, about 45 percent of TV households in the United States, or 56 million homes, had at least one smart TV, according to IHS Markit data. Smart TVs accounted for 70 percent of all television shipments to North America last year, said the firm, which forecasts the share to rise to 78 percent this year.
“In terms of practical things the F.T.C. could do, one is filing additional enforcement actions, which, in addition to curtailing individual companies’ practices, can send a powerful ‘clean up your act’ message to industries,” said Jonathan Mayer, an assistant professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton University and a former technology adviser at the Federal Communications Commission.
The Federal Trade Commission could also do a “sweep” of the smart-TV industry, which would mean testing smart TVs from major manufacturers and potentially taking enforcement action based on its findings, he said.
Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, has been pressing the Federal Trade Commission on smart TVs and privacy since 2015 and said he was hopeful that the senators’ letter would prompt action.
“A device is a device,” Mr. Rotenberg said. “A person should be able to plug it into the wall, connect into the internet and not worry that what happens next is going to be recorded.”