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Your Samsung TV might be spying on your conversations

21st Mar 16

Your Samsung TV might be spying on your conversations

In his novel Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell wrote about a world in which Big Brother' operated an omnipresent surveillance network that monitored what everyone was thinking, doing and talking about. Even the TVs in everyone's homes recorded what was being said, with the data being sent to the Ministry of Truth'.

All this sounded far-fetched science fiction when the book was published in 1949 and even as recently as the turn of the century many would have scoffed at the idea, but now it has become a reality; groups such as Privacy International and Big Brother Watch are incensed at the news that Samsung have admitted their voice activated Smart TVs record conversations between viewers sitting within earshot and send the data back to a third party company.

The South Korean corporation recently issued a statement confirming that, "If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature, voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search. At that time, the voice data is sent to a server, which searches for the requested content then returns the desired content to the TV." The company went on to state that it did not retain or sell the voice data collected and that no information was recorded when the voice recognition feature was turned off. Whenever voice activation is turned on, via the TV remote control, a microphone' icon is displayed on the screen.

The fundamental problem is that in order to respond to voice commands, the TV has to listen' to what people are saying in order for it to pick out the queries and commands it has been programmed to respond to. Any words spoken, whether it be highly personal or contain other sensitive information, will be collected and transmitted to third party servers - in this case, Nuance. Intellectual property lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Corynne McSherry said she would want to be reassured that any words being uploaded to such a server were done so in a secure form. EFF is a leading digital rights' campaign organisation and it was one of its activists who was responsible for putting Samsung's policy statement in the public domain by publishing it on Twitter.

Though the current furore is centred on Samsung, a similar situation occurred in 2013 when an LG customer, an IT consultant, became aware that his Smart LG TV was collecting and transmitting details relating to the programmes he was watching. LG responded by issuing a software update that gave users the option of switching off the data-collection feature.

Smart TVs are just a small part of the technological revolution, known as the Internet of Everything (IoE) that is set to change our way of life. Electronic devices, motor vehicles, homes, factories, everything, will eventually become smart' or interconnected. It is already possible to control central heating systems remotely; driverless cars are about to hit the roads; supermarkets know what our shopping habits are, and even kettles can be programmed to prepare water to a predetermined temperature for when we walk through the door, gasping for a cup of tea or coffee. But all this convenience comes at a price, a loss of privacy. Where would you draw the line?

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