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Is Your Samsung Smart TV Spying on You?

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Original article posted on the TorGuard Blog here.



If you own a Samsung SmartTV then the answer to this question may frighten you. This week Samsung issued a warning to customers about discussing private information in front of their Smart TV. This cautionary notice is directed at the voice control feature that according to Samsung’s policy could inadvertently upload someone’s personal discussions to servers under the company’s control. What happens to the data next is not entirely clear, however some may assume it could be harvested for advertising or marketing purposes.


The capabilities of SmartTV’s  to intrude on our privacy become even more worrying when we consider the fact that the units also feature facial recognition technology that is intended to supplement manually entering one’s password. So, that big bright glowing box in your living room may actually be listening and watching our every move. Does this feel like an Orwellian nightmare yet?


In response to the wide spread panic this development caused Samsung issued a statement to explain exactly how the voice activation feature works. They reiterated that the voice recognition feature is only activated by using the remote control and that a microphone icon would be clearly visible on the screen.


Samsung stated: “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.â€


So, according to them, no one is actually listening unless these features are active and in use. Somehow this is not comforting when we consider the fact that security researchers are constantly finding vulnerabilities in web enabled devices. Who is to say that the third party Samsung trusted your data with was compromised, or that the supposedly “private†API that is sending/receiving your data was intercepted? These scenarios need to be considered as real threats to anyone that values privacy.


Samsung’s privacy policy goes further in saying: “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. You should exercise caution and review the privacy statements applicable to the third-party websites and services you use.â€


While Samsung’s Smart TV offers extreme convenience and ease of use, we must consider the possible privacy implications of using an all in one solution like this. Is it really worth signing away any hope of personal privacy just so we don’t have to get up off the couch?


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The only real solution seems to take the 'smart' out of the smart tv, by removing internet access from it. Some forum posts on other sites have mentioned simply blocking the ip addresses the smart tv reports back to with your router.

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