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The trend for ‘smart’ devices hasn’t stopped at phones, thermostats and smoke detectors Nest Protect Review and Giveaway Nest Protect Review and Giveaway Read More . Even your TV is ‘smart’ now What Is a Smart TV & 6 of the Best On The Market Today What Is a Smart TV & 6 of the Best On The Market Today Most televisions you look at now will be smart TVs, but what is a smart TV and which ones are the best on the market right now? Read More , boasting all kinds of functionality that hasn’t been seen before, including third-party applications and Internet TV. But a feature in the latest Samsung TVs has put the Korean giant in a bit of hot water.

It turns out they’ve been listening to everything you’ve been saying in front of them, and people are rightly furious.

Watching Me, Watching You

It’s worth stressing that not every Samsung TV is affected; only the ones which can support voice commands. If your Idiot Box has a big Cathode Ray Tube, or was bought in the 1980s, you don’t have much to be worried about. But if you bought your smart TV recently, you should probably pay close attention.

bigbrother-uhdtv

Some of the newer devices allow you to control your TV by speaking to it. These voice commands are sent to a third party – almost certainly Nuance, the makers of Dragon Naturally Speaking and Dragon Dictate Stop Typing: Better Learn To Dictate Text with Dragon Dictate for Mobile Devices [iOS] Stop Typing: Better Learn To Dictate Text with Dragon Dictate for Mobile Devices [iOS] Nuance's iPhone apps, Dragon and Dragon Search have been available for free download for over a year now. Since then, the company has added a few other similar voice to text apps to its line... Read More , and one of the largest voice recognition software companies – for processing.

Sounds handy, right? The problem is that when you take a closer look at their privacy policy, it seems a bit less… innocuous.

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“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party,”

Translated from legalese, this means that should you decide to control your TV with your voice, anything it hears will be transmitted and processed too.

Obviously, this is quite concerning; scary, even. Especially considering that Samsung have explicitly disavowed responsibility for any breaches of user data that occur at one of these third-parties (emphasis ours).

“Please note that when you watch a video or access applications or content provided by a third-party, that provider may collect or receive information about your SmartTV (e.g., its IP address and device identifiers), the requested transaction (e.g., your request to buy or rent the video), and your use of the application or service. Samsung is not responsible for these providers’ privacy or security practices.

Straight Out Of Orwell

The nightmarishly dystopian classic 1984, by George Orwell, envisioned a world where every thought and utterance was observed and noted by the omniscient (and omnipresent) Big Brother, who was the figurehead of the expansive empire of Oceania.

One of the main tools of surveillance used by Big Brother was called the Telescreen, which both pumped out propaganda, whilst simultaneously observing the viewers. Predictably, many people have underlined the similarities between the canon of Orwell, and Samsung’s latest smart TVs.

But that’s not the only reason why so many people are spooked by the privacy breach these TVs pose.

To say that the wounds from the Snowden revelations haven’t quite healed would be putting it mildly. The disclosure that the British and American governments had been (and are still) surveilling their subjects through their relationships What Is PRISM? Everything You Need to Know What Is PRISM? Everything You Need to Know The National Security Agency in the US has access to whatever data you're storing with US service providers like Google Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook. They're also likely monitoring most of the traffic flowing across the... Read More with major Internet companies shocked many, and shook trust in government security institutions, as well as the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter.

There’s now an unprecedented understanding of how intimately governments can use social media and internet data as tools of surveillance, and understandably many people are worried that governments will be able to use these TVs as surveillance devices.

Members of the security community I’ve spoken to have also raised concerns that these networked TVs could be hacked Smart TVs Are A Growing Security Risk: How Do You Deal With This? Smart TVs Are A Growing Security Risk: How Do You Deal With This? Read More , exposing their users to a variety of risks. Samsung have had a checkered past when it comes to security matters.

bigbrother-snowdenIn 2014, the developers of Replicant (a fully free/libre version of Android) discovered a backdoor that is distributed on the modem firmware of the Samsung Galaxy line. The backdoor, which was detailed on this blog post, allowed a remote attacker to read, modify, and delete files that were stored on the device.

It is, however, worth noting that the existence of such a backdoor was strenuously denied by Samsung, as well as other members of the security community.

What Do The Experts Say?

In researching this piece, I spoke to a number of security and privacy expects, all of whom expressed severe concerns with this technology.

Manuel Leithner, Security and Dev SpecOps Engineer at Austrian employment startup watchado.at had this to say:

“So far, we understand that it’s only activated when the remote is pressed. This is good for the regular user, but also very much open to abuse. Think about the possibility of someone pressing that button from outside the house, and just keeping it pressed, or the technical equivalent of that.”

Manuel also expressed concerns about the presence of a backdoor in Samsung’s Smart TVs.

“It’s also absolutely not impossible that there are remote commands built into the TV that would then activate voice recognition. Especially considering that Samsung actually did have a backdoor in one of their Galaxy phones”

Aral Balkan, founder of the ind.ie project Ind.ie Wants To Kill Facebook And Make The Internet Decentralized Ind.ie Wants To Kill Facebook And Make The Internet Decentralized One guy wants to finally end the homogeny of the massive data-silos in the sky (read: Facebook, Google and Dropbox). His name is Aral Balkan. Read More , was a little bit less reserved and saliently pointed out that Samsung spying on their users is significantly more sinister when you consider the history of the company, and their ties to the police and military.

“So the Samsung TV you bought spies on you in your own home. So what? Were you out in the streets protesting when LG pioneered the practice two years ago? Do you care that a company that also makes tanks for militaries and supplies the police listens to every word you utter in your own home? You do? Good. Because it really is about time that you did. It’s time we all started making some noise and demanding that our right to privacy is protected if we don’t want to lose our fundamental freedoms to the faceless multinational corporations that produce our shiny toys.”

Security blogger Javvad Malik also threw in his two cents about the added security risks to the consumer that this speech recognition technology poses.

“Anything that can connect to the internet and has the ability to see or hear you, determine your location, heart rate, health or any other factor can become a privacy nightmare. Whilst the functionality these TV’s are providing are no different from voice-enabled functions you find in smartphones – concerns around security of these devices are legitimate. We’ve seen instances where attackers have been able to gain control over home CCTV cameras, cars and even baby monitors.

Malik even goes so far as to deal an argument-settling parthian shot:

“Just like scientists in Jurassic Park, companies are so focussed on whether they can cram additional functionality into products, they don’t stop to think if they should.”

Is This The Future Of TVs?

I certainly hope not.

But simultaneously, I know that there’s been an upward trend for previously un-networked devices to become ‘smart devices’. Many of these ‘smart devices’ use voice recognition as a way to facilitate ‘buttonless’ use. Although convenient, it’s important to remember that these technologies can easily be used against us, and we should be wary of them.

But what do you think? Leave me a comment below, and we’ll chat.

Photo Credit: Glasseyes view (Big Brother)Samsung Euro Forum 2014 (K?rlis Dambr?ns)Edward Snowden Wired (Mike Mozart) 

  1. Arte
    February 19, 2015 at 5:37 am

    The most typical response I've heard from most people regarding privacy issues and the need to keep things more private online is "I don't care who readssees it (like on social media sites, voip calls, texts, etc.), I don't have anything to hide!" What isn't being fully understood is WHO is lookinglistening, and for WHAT purpose! My God! Profiling is just dangerous with the best of intentions; but more especially when it falls into the wrong hands. Everyone in the world does not have our best interest at heart (actually very few people do these days. What would u not say in front of the IRS guy doing your audit? Your mom's minister? Your mother-in-law? You get the point, but it's far more serious than that. How about to Goverment officials in countries with very different values than your own? Or to perhaps sworn enemies of your country? How ‘bout to terrorist groups, cults, religious organizations out to recruit (the lonely, the "live alones", the poor & vulnerable, or the wealthy great scam target? Or, what about toelling all to hate groups, serial killers, or the insane? Well! Most likely at some time in your life... you have. EVERYONE is out there! AND, EVERY-THING YOU'VE EVER TYPED ON MOST POPULAR SITES has been stored and saved for possible future use... forever! To be potentially used against you... forever! Be careful. Be safe. PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY... and that of the people you love.

  2. Arte
    February 19, 2015 at 4:58 am

    Thank u for putting the info "out there". I've had growing concerns for years, and have continued to watch, read, listen, study and learn as our new technology continues to crank out our "heart's desires". BUT, even the most gentle reminder or fact-filled warning to friends and family has seemed to fall on deaf ears. Almost anything said, until recently, (thanks to people like you), too easily sounded like the fears and rantings of some gullible, paranoid, out-of-touch, conspiracy theorist. People need to see this kind of info in their faces now until they begin to understand what the BIG deal really is all about, and it truly is HUGE.

  3. Eddie
    February 17, 2015 at 5:14 am

    As for the current generation. I look at is like this: we were once considered or called "you lousy no-good kids" when we listened to heavy metal, acid rock, hippie & flower power music. We may not have had smart phones or tablets, but we had hot rods, arcades, pool halls where we also learned to play poker and drink!...LoL! But at least we had the foundation of SCHOOL and READING BOOKS! The internet was in its early stages and if we had to do research on a paper? we went to the library and found some books and maybe went online with CompuSer and AOL. We still turned out better than this current generation, the problem in a nutshell? the so-called "smart" devices which seem to make you dumber! Nope....no "smart" devices for me...I'll stick with my smartphone and only use it for just a phone and maybe a camera, but web browsing?....reading news articles on line?...well I have a nice relable laptop with a 17" screen that makes all the content readable!

  4. Eddie
    February 17, 2015 at 5:05 am

    I think the only way to combat this is to speak with our dollars. Need an example? Microsoft. This company pandered to the consumer for decades, and then on a whim they turned in a completely different direction, and almost INSISTED that users "get used" to their nrew Metro interface and like it. Instead, a LOT of businessess and personal consumers either stayed with Windows 7 or else left to find greener pastures in the world of Apple and Linux (which I use explicitly!..loL!) This led Microsoft to change things back around, (via Windows 10) when you look at Windows 10 you realize: it's Windows SEVEN with a few cosmetic changes, but the "Seven" is under it all. If we just speak to these manufacturers by NOT buying these kinds of produces, eventually they'll get the hint and either go in a different direction, or else give the consumer COMPLETE and TOTAL control of their televisions.

  5. Rob
    February 16, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    I agree that with convenience comes drawbacks, but I think we also need to get talking about the constructive side to these discussions, as opposed to just the destructive side- what can we do to fix this issue? If we want technological progress, what changes should we be demanding?

  6. A41202813GMAIL
    February 15, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    @Ken

    Same Here With Cars.

    By The Time No Analogical Car Is Available, And Your Only Option Is Buying An Electronic Second Hand One, By Then The Technology Is So Well Tested That You Do Not Feel So Much As A Guinea Pig Anymore.

    Cheers.

  7. Ken
    February 14, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    I am always about 5 years behind the latest technology. I am hoping by the time I purchase a Smart TV that I can turn off the voice activation and I will buy something that is not made by Samsung.

  8. Rick
    February 14, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    There are a few people like us who truly care to pay attention to these matters. It is the frog in pot on the stove thats not boiling. By the time the temperature gets to a boiling point its too late. The frog is a goner.

    We as a society love our technological advances but ignore any the consequences it has on our privacy (ergo anybody who's posted compromising photos of themselves on the web as a teen to have it come back to bite them later.)

    This article is awesome and has convinced me not to purchase any voice activate television. But unless the sleeping giant (the TV consumers) is not roused from sleep companies (and more frightenly, governments) will continue to get away with this - all while selling uselling us out.

    In the meantime, I'm off to read the privacy policy on Apple's Siri - which I've happily used till now.

    • dragonmouth
      February 15, 2015 at 12:28 pm

      "We as a society love our technological advances but ignore any the consequences it has on our privacy"
      Anybody who dares to point out those consequences, is shouted down and called a "troll" or a Luddite.

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 28, 2015 at 1:55 pm

      Privacy, unfortunately, is dead.

  9. michael smith
    February 14, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    obama & pro regressives beat Samsung by 6 years....

  10. Eddie
    February 14, 2015 at 6:43 am

    I don't even see the need for a voice activated television. I think human beings are getting lazier as the years roll on. They're confusing convenience with lackadaisical funtions. How hard can it be to push the "Power" button on remote for your television, and then to browse what's on using the same remote? Why is there a reason for you to speak to your TV? I am perfectly fine ignoring this hi-def generation, and they're obsession with better graphics, which if you really think about it? makes no sense,...granted a TV's graphics CAN be enhanced but your eyes can only see "x" amount of color, light, etc. So even if a TV has the ability to portray an image in 4X HD picture, your eyes will only SEE what its biologically capable of. And don't even get me started on this follishness called "HD Radio"!?...we are not mutants, and our ears cannot change the frequencies they are designed to hear.....so how can the sounds be "hi-def"? Its either they sound good or else they don't.....and no amount of equalizer tweaking is going to change these things. This generation is so concerned with trying to play Flappy Birds, and being connected all the time, that they're missing out on the real world!! I for one will not be buying a smart ANYTHING for my home. I'm not so old that I can get up from my couch press the button on a remote, where I'd be free to searh for whatever I want to watch......I'm just saying...

    • Scott
      February 14, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      Eddie you couldn't be more RIGHT! Now you have HD tooth paste 'really'. I tried telling some friends that all this so called new technology on smart phones/tvs is really old technology and what the companies do is give us one or two new feature to make it look as if you're getting something new in the smart phone/tv. I believe the reason so many people are fooled is because they don't read, instead they are stuck on these ridiculous games and foolish reality shows. I am afraid if this trend doesn't stop the coming generations are going to be a bunch of programmed idiots doing whatever 'BIG BRO' says.

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 28, 2015 at 1:54 pm

      I agree, Eddie.

  11. Animesh Mishra
    February 14, 2015 at 6:06 am

    Didn't find even a single suggested solution to the problem at hand. Surprised!

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 28, 2015 at 1:53 pm

      Well, that's because there isn't a fix. At least, at the time of writing. Your only options are to either not buy Samsung TVs, or not use the voice control functionality.

  12. dragonmouth
    February 12, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    The cost of convenience is security.

    Why do people born in the Free World insist on giving away their rights for the sake of "convenience"???

    • Bread@Circuses
      February 18, 2015 at 6:50 pm

      the 'FREE WORLD" - you've forgotten to take your medications again

    • call1
      February 18, 2015 at 8:48 pm

      Because we now belive a fantasy that.. by giving our government more powers (whether good or bad)... they'll only use these new powers for the good. They forget history. . If they'd remember history. .. they'd know powers given to a Government are always abused.. to boot.. those new powers make us more at risk...

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