Sunday, February 12, 2017

Are TV Screens Rigged to Cheat?

                       Comments due by Feb. 18, 2017
A regulation that does not have enough inspectors to make sure is not violated will always encourage shirking)
VOLKSWAGEN, a German carmaker, has been disgraced for designing clever software that allowed it to cheat on emissions tests for diesel cars. A different scandal, with shades of the VW affair, has been building up in America’s television market. South Korea’s Samsung and LG, along with Vizio, a Californian firm, stand accused of misrepresenting the energy efficiency of large-screen sets. Together, they sell over half of all TVs in America.
In September 2016 the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), an environmental group, published research on the energy consumption of TVs, showing that those made by Samsung, LG and Vizio performed far better during short government tests than they did the rest of the time. Some TVs consumed double the amount of energy suggested by manufacturers’ marketing bumpf. America’s Department of Energy (DoE) has also conducted tests of its own that have turned up big inconsistencies.

Not all TV-makers are at fault: the NRDC found no difference in energy-consumption levels for TVs made by Sony and Philips. But class-action lawsuits have already been filed against the three companies highlighted by the tests—the latest was lodged against Samsung in New York on January 30th. The industry is now waiting to see whether 

There seem to be two main reasons for the sharp contrast between what TVs do during the government’s tests and during normal viewing. Televisions made by Samsung and LG (but not Vizio) appear to recognise the test clip that the American government uses to rate energy consumption and to advise consumers on how much it will cost to operate the set over a whole year. The DoE’s ten-minute test clip has a lot of motion and scene changes in short succession, with each clip lasting only 2.3 seconds before flashing to a new one (most TV content is made up of scenes that last more than double that length). During these tests the TVs’ backlight dims, resulting in substantial energy savings. For the rest of the time, during typical viewing conditions, the backlight stays bright.
A kind explanation is that the manufacturers have been “teaching to the test” and simply did not understand the inconsistency in energy consumption during the test compared with normal use, says Noah Horowitz of the NRDC. Another explanation is that the TV manufacturers may have been trying to outwit regulators to make their products’ energy consumption appear low to consumers.
A second reason for the discrepancy is that Samsung, LG and Vizio TVs all disabled energy-saving features without warning whenever a user changed the picture setting. On certain TVs made by LG, for example, the only setting in which energy-saving features functioned was in “Auto Power Save” mode. Selecting another setting, including “standard”, disabled the energy-saving feature without notification.
LG has updated its software so that changing display settings will not disable energy-saving features without warning. The firm disputes any suggestion that it and others were “bending the rules”, says John Taylor, a spokesman for LG. Vizio also denied wrongdoing. Samsung has not commented on the NRDC’s findings.
America’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which protects consumers, has the power to require repayment of profits from the sale of any TVs that misled customers. At least one former FTC official reckons the case deserves action. The DoE says it is considering whether it needs to modernise its test so that it becomes harder to game. The European Commission, which uses the same test as the DoE, is looking into the three manufacturers’ products as well.
How much regulatory attention the case gets may depend on how the political mood evolves. A Republican-controlled Congress could even try to unwind the energy requirements for all consumer appliances. One bill, introduced in January by Michael Burgess, a congressman from Texas, would prohibit the DoE from enforcing existing energy-efficiency standards or setting new ones. For consumers that would be an unwelcome channel change.


Chase Harnett said...

I cannot help but compare the "teach to test" reference to today's schooling. Many classes stress the importance of test results and focus on teaching the students using methods that will help them memorize information. The alternative would be to teach with the goal of teaching applicable knowledge. "Teach to test" seems to be frowned upon in this article. Why not our schooling?

On another note, the article mentions that when there is a lack of regulation companies will see this as the possibility of an advantage. This embodies the "dog eat dog" persona of todays marketplace. It is likely that the sole reason that this Television company is looking into energy efficiency is because they know it will market better. There is something to be said about this. The fact that companies feel it is necessary to make their products more efficient may suggest that there is a sort of shift in the energy trend in this country and the world. Let hope it is the beginning of a big change. Now all we need is for companies to make their products sincerely energy efficient. This will only happen through more thorough regulation and maybe subsidies!

Chase Harnett

Katherine Murphy said...

The article mentions, "TV manufacturers may have been trying to outwit regulators to make their products’ energy consumption appear low to consumers." The question really remains though. Do a majority of consumers go out of their way to find a TV that is low energy based, or do they completely dismiss this? We are in the generation of green. Businesses are thriving, to be energy efficient, eco-friendly, and sustainable. Although I thoroughly enjoy these options on the market, other people may look past a low energy TV, because they want something cheaper or maybe a TV with a certain quality. Another question remains after the article mentions that the government is to give a repayment from any of the sales of these TV's that had mislead consumers. Would these consumers even notice, or care to got through the trouble of repayment? I agree with the modernizing of the tests, since it seems since LG had gotten away with this for some time, they're probably plenty of other businesses/technologies out there getting away with the same type of problem. With more thorough testings, and the continual increase in regulations we are making the step towards a truthfully efficient lifestyle.

Marc Rinosa said...

In what is one of the more recent example of how the lack of regulation leads to misuse and abuse our resources, the TV manufacturers in question show us how the trickle balance between regulation and deregulation pose as catalyst for modern day policy/legislative actions that have significant consequences. That being said, I think one of the most important implications that this article illustrates is how information asymmetry can be used against regulators as a means of skirting around regulatory action, as well as for the purpose manipulation.

The NRDC's theory that the TV manufacturers did not know of how their actions produced energy output levels that they didn't realize they were outputting is an example of information asymmetry being used an instrument for manipulation. Because they aren't supposed to know of the output level thresholds they are required to stay under or meet, they can use that argument in the defense of low-energy adjustments and options in their TV sets. This all goes far to show how open access and resources and to be abused when regulatory structures do not exist for the purpose of preserving and protecting them.

Abbigail Jones said...

I was surprised to see that so many big name companies like Vizio, Samsung, and LG have been getting away with misrepresenting the energy consumption of their products. While their explanations for why their tests differ from government-regulated test seem feasible, I don’t understand why the Department of Energy did not catch these discrepancies sooner. If it is true that these TV manufacturers have been purposefully trying to outwit these regulators, I think there should be serious consequences. However, I do believe that the Department of Energy should have been able to detect these wrongdoings before these big TV manufacturers were able to play the system. I think it is their duty to be alert and responsive to any wrongdoings, which is why it makes sense for them to begin to modernize their tests. I also think that the shift to a Republican-controlled Congress will in fact make it harder for these Energy Departments to make moves to improve their standards, but it is something that should have been fixed a long time ago.

Lindsay Brewster said...

After reading this I can't help but wonder why the tests these TVs are put to haven't been changed to avoid inconsistencies like this. If we change the test to once again out smart the TV companies who may be trying to bend the rules, the results would reflect the real numbers. I also wonder how many consumers truly consider how much energy their TV uses when buying it. Would many consumers in fact stop purchasing Samsung, LG and Vizio if they knew the truth? Due to the general ignorance of the public about environmental issues, I highly doubt they would choose low energy usage over a high quality TV.

Bradley Pidgeon said...

This article leaves me to wonder if the TV manufacturers covered up real emissions data in an effort to dupe the government, the consumers, or both. I am not sure what the market is for energy efficient televisions, or if efficiency is a factor that many television shoppers even consider. The VW scandal seems like a much larger problem, but we have to take into account how many televisions the average American household has, and how many hours per day those televisions are in use. It would be interesting to obtain an estimate of the additional costs that have been incurred by consumers, paying nearly double for electricity to their televisions. Not only is this terrible for the environment, but the unaccounted for energy spending is being wasted, rather than making its way into the economy and contributing to growth. It also reduces the incentive for engineers at these big television manufacturers to innovate greener technology- which could be implemented in a variety of Industry. It's a shame that big companies are so easily able to get away with covering up real data, and it makes me wonder what other companies could be hiding from the government and the consumer.

Anonymous said...

I think one of the most important parts of this article is in the last paragraph, "A Republican-controlled Congress could even try to unwind the energy requirements for all consumer appliances." The worry in this sentence stretches beyond just the regulation of TV energy consumption... This is a representation of the possibility that progression can be undone. And this is pretty frightening because we've been seeing a lot of this since the inauguration. I think that it is important that these companies are penalized for their actions, just to deter other companies from functioning in the same manner. Also, I feel like this article illustrates the framework of government vs private sector. This is not beneficial to everyone clearly and is responsible for happening such as these. Maybe it is overly-idealistic but I would hope the two bodies could work together more... I'm also a bit confused, I don't think that disabling the energy-saving feature without warning benefits the company, is it just sheer laziness?

Liz Eggiman

Brielle Manzolillo said...

After reading this article, it is extremely worrisome to hear that such big companies like Samsung and LG are essentially "tricking" the government into believing that they are producing lower energy levels than they actually are. Especially in an era when conserving as much energy as possible is essential, it's worrying to think that companies are not only fooling costumers but also companies. Just as the article mentions, a more Republican-congress will only hurt energy consumption rates. As we move into this new government body, we cannot afford to waste any energy and risk hurting the environment even more.

Also, could this possibly be a form of "green washing"? The companies are misinforming costumers that they are producing low amounts of energy, which would be a large draw for those who consider themselves green consumers.

Brielle Manzolillo

Anonymous said...

It seems that since the environment is becoming a major focus in today's society, big companies are starting to lie about their externalities in order to look better to the public. Volkswagen is a perfect example. My friend's Mom bought a diesel Volkswagen specifically for the fact that it was supposed to be more beneficial to the environment. When the truth about the scandal came out, it ruined the company name for her and she felt betrayed. I've never heard of the Samsung, LG and Vizio scandal. But its shocking to me since I personally own a Vizio TV. Although, to me I don't feel betrayed by the company and I will continue to use the Vizio product. However, it is important that there is more regulation involved because false advertisement is illegal and it ruins the reputation of the company. It is in all good nature that Congress is enforcing new acts to try to prevent future scandals.

Nicholas Arciszewski

Tasfin Hossain said...

First of all I am sorry for the late reply, I thought the post was due today, not yesterday.
Secondly, I don't want to sound too political but I consider myself leaning towards the liberal agenda. And the Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency confirms my beliefs that the Republican senate thinks about its party before the country.
After last year's Samsung phone fiasco and the Volkswagen controversy the year prior, I feel that companies should be better regulated. Companies like Samsung struggling with to keep up with the competition, tries to release the hottest new product every season. And in doing so, they cut whatever corner they can think of. This competition to release the hot product every year is putting people's lives at risk. I am not trying to say we reinvent to demand supply model. But companies should prioritize human lives over profits.

Tasfin Hossain

Xander said...

Ghassan Karam - where is your reference, this article is from The Economist, link: