back to article WATCH IT: It's watching you as you WATCH IT (Your Samsung telly is)

Samsung's smart televisions don't just do what you tell them to – they also use their voice recognition capabilities to tell unspecified third parties what you're saying while you sit in front of them. If that's not a bit worrying, we don't know what is. Sharp-eyed folks have spotted Samsung's confession to that this effect in …

Anonymous Coward

"block the TVs access to the Internet on the router"

Not the answer unfortunately!

2. Take South America. Telmex / Claro dominates (Carlos Slim's billionaire empire). Users get locked out of their router on two levels. A. The router is locked with a password that even the call-out techs don't know. B. A blocker is placed over the cable to stop users connecting their own router or inserting their own along the chain. C. Claro use WEP encryption!!!

2. How many Friends, Family, Colleagues actually know how to do this, never mind those who actually will take the time to do it...

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Re: "block the TVs access to the Internet on the router"

I agree, it's not a great solution, but the main point is that we shouldn't have to do it in the first place.

With your examples of South America, I suppose you could still manually enter incorrect DNS details in the TV settings?

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Holmes

Re: "block the TVs access to the Internet on the router"

Hint... hint... Claro is not the only ISP in South America...

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Happy

See also the current Joy of Tech posting.

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Pint

Personally I don't think listening in on normal household events is painful enough.

I would aware Nine Internet Pints to the first illustrious hardware hacker who takes the mic input and instead wires into into the output of a script that pipes random youtube comments through a text-to-speech engine... but then I'd be worried of actually driving Samsung's listeners to suicide.

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Black Helicopters

Telly-what?

"Your Samsung Smart tellie WATCHES YOU while you watch it"

SO in this case, what's "tellie" an abbreviation for - "television" or "telescreen"?

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Happy

Re: Telly-what?

Televiewer?

"Turning on televiewer now. Contact."

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Uh, how surprising - my telly isn't powerful enough to recognise my voice commands and sends them to a central server, just like Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Sony...

If you don't want a TV with voice recognition, don't buy one. If you don't want a camera built in, don't buy a telly with a camera (but don't complain if it can't do Skype...)

Seriously, that's just FUD again - Siri for example does exactly the same, Google Now listens all the time for you to say "OK Google", Windows 10 and Windows Mobile pine for the magic "Hey Cortana", the PS4 has voice commands, so does the new XBox, Amazon even sells a product that does nothing BUT listening... if you don't want this, don't buy such a product, but don't go complaining that it does what you bought it for.

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I think you're missing the point. The average Joe may think he wants a TV with voice recognition, so buys one, but maybe completely unaware of the impact on his privacy in doing so.

Buying a TV with a camera for Skype is one thing, the manufacturer then perhaps deciding to use that camera covertly for some form of data mining for its own benefit is worthy of attention.

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Unhappy

@jnievele

That's all well and good until one cannot get a device that doesn't listen to every sound within its range.

This is FUD because Google, MS, Amazon and Sony do the same or similar thing?

Are you saying that this is acceptable because others do it?

Enquiring minds, that is those minds that are still capable of enquiring would like to know.

jnievele, I read juvenile until I did a double take.

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FAIL

Re: @jnievele

Those TVs are deliberately sold with "speech recognition" as one of the selling points. So even the dumbest customer should be aware that they listen to spoken words - because that's what Speech Recognition IS.

If people are too dumb to RTFM, there's no helping them.

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Re: @jnievele

So even the dumbest customer should be aware that they listen to spoken words - because that's what Speech Recognition IS.

Bollocks! Speech recognition is the magic computer-box understanding the commands you say. It's not the magic-computer-box recording everything you say on a totally separate company's servers.

Most people are not computer experts. UK contract law now basically says that you can't hide something in the Ts&Cs and claim you have consent to do it, if it's not obvious. So you have to point out important clauses as part of the sales process. Hence "your property may be at risk if you do not keep up the repayments" - and that sort of thing.

It's an interesting question as to what they record. Obviously they're not going to want a massive, stupidly huge, database of everything all of their customers say. But I bet they do want to do research on how often the TV is missing the command keyword. I assume you say something like "Samsung" or "TV" to wake it up, before asking it to change channel or volume. So they might want to record the odd evening's conversation to test that all instances of their chosen keyword were picked up?

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Re: I ain't Spartacus@jnievele

They will probably record all, Store online, as the "Smart" TV probably has no Storage, to build the DataSet needed to Understand you ...

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Re: @jnievele

"I assume you say something like "Samsung" or "TV" to wake it up"

And that really is the nub of the matter. Listening for the "attention" signal should be easily done internally to the TV. There's no need for that part of it and any other random speech to be sent off to remote, probably extra-territorial servers for analysis. Apart from the privacy issues already highlighted, it's wasteful in both bandwidth and processing power.

For that matter, there's no reason why most of the basic commands can't be managed internally. My Garmin SatNav can take not only the limited command set but also random addresses verbally without a need to use some sort of remote supercluster of servers to analyse what I said. No voice recognition training required. Another plus point on my SatNav. I get to type in a word or phrase to use as the wake-up command. No childish "Hey Cortana", "Hello Google" or "Hello Galaxy".

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:;heh::

One wonders if the marketards paying attention to all this spy-ware generated data will actually understand that all the people laughing at "the newest beauty product"[0], or the "fat burner pill of the month"[1], or useless vehicle advertising[2], or "take this pill to feel[hard|sexy|thin|better about yourself]"[3] or "Our Banking institution neverfleeces customers!"[4] etc. are totally serious ... Advertising is a complete farce, and always has been.

[0] Same claims made over 40+ years for completely different "beauty" products, none of which work as advertised.

[1] None of the other ones worked ... why are you still buying into the concept?

[2] Honestly, have YOU ever purchased a vehicle based on advertising instead of going out and looking at what's really available in the real world? If so, WHY??

[3] Ah, yes. Magic Fix-it Pills That trick never works, Bullwinkle.

[4] ::snort::

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Orwell

I seem to remember a book by George Orwell, an Englishman, I believe it was called "1984".... 30 years later we have it.... ("Hail Big Brother!").

And as for the previous commentor, welcome to the world of "Big Data". I believe there was an English TV show called the "Prisoner". This was part of the introduction...

"Number 6: Where am I?

Number 2: In the Village.

Number 6: What do you want?

Number 2: We want information.

Number 6: Whose side are you on?

Number 2: That would be telling. We want information... information... information.

Number 6: You won't get it.

Number 2: By hook or by crook, we will.

Number 6: Who are you?

Number 2: The new Number 2.

Number 6: Who is Number 1?

Number 2: You are Number 6.

Number 6: I am not a number, I am a free man."

And isn't that the point, we are "Free..." until... we aren't.

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Re: Orwell

They miss the next bit of the conversation...

Number 2: Of course you're a 'free man', sir. And I'm a 'Samsung Customer Support Representative', but my screen still says you're number 6.

Number 6: Oh....

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Happy

Re: Orwell

I preferred the Goon Show version. It's good to be alive, in 1985!

If you commit a thought crime, the Big Brother Corporation will cut off your subscription to the Radio Times...

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Thumb Up

Re: Orwell

Upvote for "The Prisoner" reference. Personally, "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own."

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Simple way to avoid this

I believe that all the Samsung TVs that have this feature are supplied with two remote controls. Just remove the batteries from the one with the microphone and put it away in a drawer. The only data they can get now is your viewing habits. They're welcome to mine, most of the time I'm watching HDMI2 - good luck with making anything of that.

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Re: Simple way to avoid this

"Just remove the batteries from the one with the microphone and put it away in a drawer."

Hang on! You what? You still need to find the remote from down the back of the sofa before you can use the voice commands anyway? I've been assuming through all this that the mic was part of the TV.

Also, someone was on the radio about this earlier today. He had to turn off the voice recognition because the TV was being "controlled" by the audio from his sound system and doing random and strange things to sound of voices from the TV. The mic can only "cancel" the TV sounds from the TV speakers. And we all know how "good" they are.

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Re: Simple way to avoid this

Can we do a radio ad, that will turn on peoples TVs, and switch the channel just in time to show our TV ad?

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Ever hear of Shazam?

Even on 'HDMI2' the TV can easily tell what program you're watching (whether live or recorded) whether you skip commercials or not etc. the same way Shazam can identify what song it hears.

Didn't expect to see someone so hopelessly naive at El Reg...

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Boffin

Re: Simple way to avoid this

Probably they have one in the TV too.

Maybe a third hidden one my drill will miss :-(

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Windows

"...some voice commands may be transmitted... to a third-party service that converts speech to text"

Such a lot of complexity in order to save some fat-arse having to press a button or, god-forbid, get up out of their seat.

Wierd how all this technology is easing the strain of modern life, but mostly in areas that are really, really trivial.

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Black Helicopters

Re:

Kind of makes you wonder why they bother at all eh?

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Re: "get up out of their seat"

And do what, once they are out of the seat?

Have you actually tried to do anything using just the minimal set of buttons on the telly itself?

You're normally limited to buttons for power, channel up and down and volume up and down. If you're lucky you may have an input selector and sometimes a menu button. And if you're really lucky, there may be a physical power switch somewhere you can find it.

Whilst checking a Sharp telly I was given (without a remote), I tried to get it to re-scan the DTV channels after I had done a reset. Turns out you can't do it at all without the remote. Fortunately, I came across a code for one of my universal remotes that provided the "DTV menu" button needed. I also think that my main living room telly can't select HDMI as an input from the buttons on the telly.

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Anonymous Coward

"And do what, once they are out of the seat?"

Fair points. I guess they've already eliminated the need to get out of the seat. Except, of course, if you have a dog like ours, which treats remotes as a prize to be fought over.

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Re: "...some voice commands may be transmitted..."

Why Samsung televisions should transmit the speech anywhere for conversion to text? Their Galaxy series of smartphones and tablets do the job internally. You can dictate a note and it will appear as a jerky stream of text on-screen, even if no network connection is present.

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Re: "...some voice commands may be transmitted..

It's for those people who dream of living in a Star Trek universe...

Quite a few people still say "Oh, I want to live on the Enterprise, just like Captain Picard - how cool would that be!!!" - yet few people realise that the Enterprise computer system tracks every movement on board, listens to every conversation, and probably even tracks you via CCTV. And with the right level of access, the computer also will tell authorised persons all it observed... so no quick date with Counselor Troy in her quarter, Riker will just say "Who visited Troys quarter in the last 48 hours and went into the bedroom" ;-)

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Re: "...some voice commands may be transmitted..

Let's be fair. Riker would need to provide a command override to the privacy settings. Once his envy became apparent, and his knowledge was found to be too great, Picard would check the system and BAM: "Ensign Riker reporting for duty"

Further of course, the vessels of Star Fleet will be command vessels, and authorized personnel will need the ability to - within very strict privacy and command override protocols - to access information if it is deemed necessary for the safety of the people aboard and the integrity of the mission.

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Don't forget the "Smart" recommendations

There's another screed of click-through legalese associated with the feature that recommends content you may wish to view by sending details of everything you watch to Samsung and their selected partners so they can save you the trouble of consulting the EPG. At least (following media outrage) you can opt out of that.

You can't opt out of the 102 pages of terms and conditions relating to the "Smart Hub" feature (catch-up TV, other miscellaneous apps & games and DLNA) though they mostly don't apply if you don't create a Samsung account that they can use to aggregate your data and authorise your access to "premium" content.

And Samsung TVs that feature "gesture control" have a camera.

But there's no need to be overly concerned - your mobile phone has already scooped up all your interesting and valuable data - the stuff left for your telly is mostly just the dregs.

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Big Brother

"You are the dead"

We are the dead.

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WTF?

Re: "You are the dead"

A downvote for a 1984 telescreen reference!?

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Anonymous Coward

good job Samsung aren't American

Otherwise the NSA would have a direct route in.

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Terminator

"I know you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, Dave"

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Devil

At least being spied on by a homicidal maniac in charge of a spaceship, means that I get to have a go on a spaceship. I'm willing to put up with that, if it gets me into space. The risks of space travel are pretty high anyway.

Samsung are only giving me a telly. Then again, the risk of brain damage from watching X Factor, is probably the more significant threat...

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"Samsung are only giving me a telly."

Giving? No, you are paying a pretty penny to be data-raped. It's not as if they charge less to make up for taking all that valuable data or offer a more expensive, snoop free version.

Was it The Fifth Element where the guys "free" TV was "always on" blasting out adverts because he couldn't afford one with an off switch?

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Silver badge

I don't recall that from 5th Element.

Although I do remember the blip-verts from '20 minutes into the future' which made lard-arses explode.

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Silver badge

True story!

I'm not going to imply anything, but as a related thing it's not exactly amusing that AFwall regularly pops up a note on my Android phone of it having prevented Voice Commands accessing the internet - considering I definitely keep it switched off...

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Anonymous Coward

I just a want a TV with a classy screen that doesn't spy on me! .. How hard is that?

Well its getting harder to find basic models anymore as many shops only stock 'Smart'.

LG and Samsung want to build platforms that are direct conduits to advertisers. These systems use onboard gesture recognition, microphones and cameras, to spy on entire families, feeding data to advertisers in real-time, completely usurping Google and Facebook ...

I'll be sticking with basic LED and Plasma as long as I can...

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Joke

Re: I just a want a TV with a classy screen that doesn't spy on me! .. How hard is that?

"LG and Samsung want to build platforms that are direct conduits to advertisers. "

BMW is already doing that with its cars, why wouldn't LG and Sammy do the same?

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Anonymous Coward

Top-3 reasons to stop buying overpriced spying Smart-TV's :-

1. Samsung TV Panel Lotteries. Do consumers realize many Samsungs don't have Samsung panels?

2. Smart-TV Spying (LG used to be worst offender, now its Samsung).

3. Where can consumers even get 3D / 4K / 8K Ultra content today?

Its pretty scary how TV makers want to get into bed with Advertisers. I thought Android Smartphone (Google) monitoring was bad, but it makes Facebook spying appear benign! Now, the CEO of Samsung says they intend to connect every single TV they sell to the internet. I walked into a department store soon after and was told "Oh, yeah, we only sell Smart TV's now"! Ouch! Who has time to read the 20-50 page privacy document?

How did Smart-TV makers respond after Microsoft force-upgraded Skype without warning? You can buy a laptop and a basic TV for the price of a Smart-TV, and upgrade any app including Skype without delay. You can even use VLC and play any video format, which Smart-TV's can do that?!

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Anonymous Coward

What's the Solution?

* People, please stop buying Smart TV's.

* Connect a cheap laptop instead, its far superior!

* Demand a basic model or walk away. The problem is that many stores are no longer stocking non-Smart TV's. We must halt this trend and send a message to LG & Samsung....

* To the other competitors, create a privacy driven TV with a great screen and market that against LG & Samsung.... i.e. The offline Edward Snowden TV...

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Silver badge

Re: What's the Solution?

* People, please stop buying Smart TV's.

Unfortunately if you want more than 1 or 2 HDMI ports you pretty much have to buy a higher end model which these days tends to mean "smart" tv.

Reasonable solution currently is either to leave ethernet unplugged or should you wish to use DLNA in-house, block it at your router (both suggestions have already been made by several posters).

Now, if they actually sold just a decent panel with plenty of ports without any annoying smarts for reasonable price that would be great.

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Anonymous Coward

"if you want more than 1 or 2 HDMI ports" -> "smart" tv

Buy a Smart TV just for extra ports? That's a terrible idea.

Buy a HDMI remote switcher instead for $10-30...

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Anonymous Coward

Kinect has been doing this for years

Infact Microsoft were even considering using what you talked about to determine what adverts to plaster all over the Xbox dashboard.

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Big Brother

citizen Smith

What was that you were mumbling about the Party?

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"But you can turn it off."

Doesn't matter. As anyone working in the media or politics will tell you: If you're in front of a microphone, always assume it is on. Always assume a tape is recording. Always assume a camera is rolling.

It applies to Google Glasses and it applies to smart TVs. If you're not happy to live with the assumption that everything you say in your living room is being recorded, don't buy one.

I seem to recall the telescreen could be turned down (but not actually off) as well.

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It sounds like...

... you're having a wank in front of the television. Would you like to access the porn channels?

PS Remind me to change the combination on my luggage...

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