back to article Samsung: Our TVs? Spying on you? Ha Ha! Just a joke of course

Samsung has responded to the worldwide paroxysm of excitement over its smart TVs listening to people in their living rooms – by insisting that its voice-control technology isn't in any way at all as creepy as its own privacy policy made out. "Samsung takes consumer privacy very seriously and our products are designed with …

  1. elDog

    Cough, cough

    Ahem - can you hear me now?

    No, should I speak more clearly? Do you want me to leave more spaces between my words?

    OK - let's try again.

    Honey - I'm totally heads-over-heels about you, mmmmmmph. Aaaaah.

    Got that?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cough, cough

      Dude, get a room.

  2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Er?

    But does anyone actually believe what Samsung are saying?

    wouldn't they have a bunch of clients all lined up for this juicy data feed. Think of all that 'sex in front of the telly' sound and video that they are now not going to get.

    Just what the company needs to prop up their sagging finances.

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Er?

      Oh yes, the global shortage of porn has reached such critical levels now that punters will queue up to pay for badly-produced audio-only recordings of amateurs in front of a TV. I'm sure.

      On some planet, maybe. But it is not this planet.

      1. Senshi

        Re: Er?

        Fool.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Do You Believe?

      Why, YES, yes everyone DOES believe.

      After all, everyone seems to believe that Apple (Siri), Google (Voice, Now, Android's Voice Recognition and speech-to-text), Vontage, etc etc etc, do not listen in, record, analyze AND data mine your conversations, I mean speech conversions, so why should you believe that Samsung isn't as caring about, well, about you?

      [/s]

    3. BillG
      FAIL

      Re: Er?

      But does anyone actually believe what Samsung are saying?

      I don't believe any company that collects personal data.

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    It does make one wonder...

    what they're really doing? On the surface, they cleared things up. But are they just baffling with BS to make people think things are sweetness and light?

    OTOH, it's nice they cleared up the "third party"... So what's the third party's ethics and privacy policies?

    The bigger question still is: can they be trusted? Revelations about hacks, hijacks, snooping, selling info, marketing, etc. on the 'Net makes this problematical.

  4. thx1138v2

    Voice recognition

    They only send the voice data over the internet to a 3rd party who provides the voice recognition service and supposedly returns something back for the TV to act upon.

    Now who would that unnamed 3rd party be? Who might have the best, most versatile voice recognition? GCHQ? NSA? Does it matter? If it's transmitted it might as well be printed on billboards all over the world.

    If it can be done it will be done. Just disable the voice recognition? Keep in mind that your cell phone can transmit a conversation even if it's turned off as long as the battery isn't removed. And with the right signal processing every speaker can also be a microphone.

    1. Someone Else Silver badge
      Coat

      @ Re: Voice recognition

      They say they only send the voice data over the internet to a 3rd party who provides the voice recognition service and supposedly returns something back for the TV to act upon.

      There, FTFY

  5. petur
    WTF?

    same sh*t, different company

    Amazon, Apple, Google,... they are all sending over your voice recordings to their servers to do the recognition.

    I'm surprised Samsung gets singled out here. If you're going to condemn a practice or a system, condemn them all...

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: same sh*t, different company

      >I'm surprised Samsung gets singled out here.

      Probably because they are the first provider to truely be honest about their voice system. Remember IBM had fun poked at it for advising staff not to use Siri for business, for exactly the same reasons as Samsung are warning users about. If you interact with a voice recognition system, you can expect, just like your conversations with call centre's, for your conversation/utterances to be recorded and possibly used for service improvement purposes, which may involve other humans actually listening to the tapes and/or reading the transcripts.

    2. DougS Silver badge

      Re: same sh*t, different company

      There is a difference - Samsung is sending it to someone else's servers not their own servers. Once they say "we may send your voice to a third party" it could go anywhere and for any purpose. If they are only sending it to Nuance, it should say something like "we may send your voice to Nuance or its corporate successor for the purpose of xxx, and they may not use it for any other purpose".

      Samsung just assumed that no one reads these agreements, so they made it as broad as possible since they figured no one cared. However, about 1 in 100,000 people actually do read them, and when they find something they don't like, they make sure others hear about it. That's why I don't worry too much about blindly clicking through Apple's bazillion page agreement. If there's a clause in there giving up my firstborn, someone will have already seen it and raised a huge stink.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: same sh*t, different company

        "about 1 in 100,000 people actually do read them,...If there's a clause in there giving up my firstborn"

        So no one knows if it's in the Windows Phone T&Cs yet?

      2. petur

        Re: same sh*t, different company

        That would pretty much lock them to only use Nuance...

        And BTW, I'm 99.9% sure Apple can send it off to a 3rd party (also Nuance, in that case)

      3. RudeUnion

        Re: same sh*t, different company

        Exactly. Their first action was to update their terms rather than say they're fixing it. They say they're only sharing the data with trusted third parties, but who knows who those companies are sharing it with. How far does the data go up stream? I wouldn't trust any company, let alone one that pulled a shifty move like this. It's proven Samsung steals ideas from others, attacks people for bad reviews, fakes good reviews, and is listening and forwarding conversations to an unknown list of companies. How about full disclosure rather than hackers having to reveal questionable business practices?

    3. Monkeyman
      Big Brother

      Re: same sh*t, different company

      nope, you can't put them all in the same boat, follow the money.

      Amazon - makes money from selling you stuff and services and a cut from providing a sales platform for 3rd parties

      Apple - makes money from selling you kit and services and takes a cut from sales of software

      Samsung - makes money from selling you kit (and presumably takes a cut from potential services)

      Google - makes money from selling advertising based on information gathered about you.

      Spot the one that you wouldn't want listening to you....

  6. DrXym Silver badge

    Is this at all surprising?

    It is not surprising at all that a TV with voice recognition will send audio off to be recognized. I expect there is an option to disable it. A better option is don't buy smart TVs in the first place - all that functionality will be bitrotten in a few years any way.

    1. Notas Badoff

      Re: Is this at all surprising?

      Turned off the voice recognition first thing I got the new set last December. I figured the 'smart' in the TV wasn't smart enough, so kinda obvious they'd be echoing onto the network.

      (I also disabled the WiFi, which again disabled the voice recognition, tho when Samsung properly supports Netflix that'll change (sigh))

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Is this at all surprising?

        "Turned off the voice recognition first thing"

        At least you thought you did.....

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Is this at all surprising?

        "when Samsung properly supports Netflix"

        What do you consider "properly" then, as Samsung televisions play Netflix just fine. Do you have a higher level of "properly" than "everything works as intended"?

    2. Dazed and Confused Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Is this at all surprising?

      Yeah it's hardly surprising that a voice activated system needs to keep it's ears open.

      1. RudeUnion

        Re: Is this at all surprising?

        Right, but do you think this is the only way to do voice activation, or might there be a better way where a company doesn't capture and resell all communication in radius of their tv's? It's planning that decides they can make money on this. The outrage the public is having on this isn't a surprise to you, is it?

    3. veti Silver badge

      Re: Is this at all surprising?

      That might work - for now.

      But pretty soon - maybe five years down the line? - you'll be searching in vain for a new TV that doesn't have this feature. If you want to buy a new TV, as opposed to a secondhand one, you'll be getting voice activation.

      Right now you're probably thinking "but then someone will make a cheapo option that doesn't have this, specially for luddites like me". But if the history of consumer gadgets teaches us anything, it's that "luddites" are not a significant market segment, even though they think they are. How many CRT TVs with hand-turned tuning dials do you see in the shops today?

      Nobody is going to market a gadget with the unique selling point that it has fewer features than its competition. Not for long, anyway.

      Welcome to the future. Looks a bit like Soviet Russia, doesn't it? - except that it's not just the government spying on you, it's a random and unknowable number of private companies in random and unknowable countries as well.

    4. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Is this at all surprising?

      Bitrotten - not so sure. TVs now use generic OS-es. My Tosh TV gets an update every 1-2 month. So does the new Sony BR (I suspect both run some form of Android). VR will only continue to be embedded deeper and deeper into the OS as this is where Google likes to take it so not like it will bit rot any time soon.

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Re: Is this at all surprising?

        "Bitrotten - not so sure. "

        Smart TVs have been a thing for 5 or 6 years now. If you look at the ones which have been knocking around for 3 years (for example) and note how crap they are - that's your TV 3 years hence. And 3 years is generous because I expect most people keep their TV for as long as it works or a new standard appears. The lifecycle of apps and OSes doesn't fit the lifecycle of a television.

        Services get discontinued (e.g. LoveFilm, Blockbuster) or functionality is added to other platforms but not yours, or your TV doesn't get popular new apps at all. Or support ceases and security holes (opened by all that smartness) go unpatched.

        At least if the smartness was in a box then you could get rid of the box or move it to a bedroom. When it's baked into the TV, you're stuck with it.

  7. TheWeddingPhotographer

    phone

    Apply same ligic to phone. .. fxxx

  8. Dan Paul

    Spy TV

    Hate to break it to you but ANY media device that connects to the Internet will divulge your viewing habits.

    It's the 2014 equivalent of having a Neilsen ratings box. If you can't sling ad's, monitize the data.

    The only reason we might want the capability is to update the firmware of the TV/DVD/Bluray player. I've only had to do this twice but the DRM from the studios sometimes needs to be updated in the player or it won't read the disk.

    My older wired ethernet media equipment had to be updated manually but newer equipment might do that "automagically" since all the new ones are WIFI capable.

    Phillips just came out with a new 40" UHD Monitor only with no TV tuner that would accommodate a PC and not need a TV LIcense over there. Maybe some of the other TV vendors will follow suit.

    And there's people out there who actually WANT the "Internet of Things".

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Spy TV

      The future belongs to cheap no-name Android HDMI sticks flashed with CyanogenMod and loaded with Kodi. They may be smart but they're also deaf, blind, and dumb.

  9. Whatever city

    should be listed in rise of the machines

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTc2B0_gBo8

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And if the security...

    of the product is not up to scratch, and it gets hacked, who carries the can?

    CXan we trust the Samsung IT dept. to lock the system down?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm still...

    ...not going to put one of these in my bedroom, thank you.

  12. P. Lee
    Facepalm

    Wrong move

    Just be honest about it. It's really no skin off Samsung's nose if this is a privacy problem.

    Say, "Yes we send your voice to third parties. We included the feature because we think its cool tech and it works a bit like Siri, Cortana and Google's thingie, but it is off by default because we know there are privacy implications with all of these types of systems. Hopefully over time, voice recognition tech will improve to the point where we don't need to do this. Enjoy."

    Personally, I'd rather use a remote than speak, even if there were no privacy issues. I think its faster, though its pretty moot for me since I record everything and watch almost nothing live.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Wrong move

      "Personally, I'd rather use a remote than speak, even if there were no privacy issues. I think its faster, though its pretty moot for me since I record everything and watch almost nothing live."

      From what I just read in the article, the primary use of the cloudy speech recognition is for searches where it's probably quicker than trying to navigate an on-screen keyboard and that's activated by pressing a button on the remote. They appear to be saying that the basic speech recognition functions such as channel change, mute etc. are handled locally and "may" still work with speech recognition disabled.

  13. James O'Shea

    My main TV

    is an LG, not a Samsung. It is not a smart TV. It is connected to a cheap desktop which I set up to do what I want (for example, to store certain shows on its 2 TB hard drive until I bloody well tell it not to, and not to bother the cableco's DVR's pretty little head while doing this) and neither the TV nor the desktop have voice recognition. They don't even have microphones or a camera.

    Should I ever be forced to purchase a 'smart' TV, I will, first thing, perform a little surgery and physically disable the mic and camera.

    But that's me.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: My main TV

      You could just deny it any access to your Internet connection.

      That's easier and just as effective.

    2. John Miles

      Re: and physically disable the mic and camera

      I find just not allowing it access to the internet is enough to stop it calling home - if I find it has a built in GSM card, I can see them getting very big bills ;)

  14. Stephen Horne

    Is it possible that by enabling the voice recognition and letting visitors in your living room without warning them, either you or Sammie might be breaking the law?

    IIRC it's illegal to record peoples voices in your home unless you tell them first, so that by staying there they're consenting to be recorded. The icon on the screen doesn't mean much to people who don't know about it - not noticing or understanding the implications of that icon doesn't sound like consent to me. Even knowing that voice recognition is happening - until quite recently, voice recognition software commonly worked entirely locally - on PCs that were in many ways no doubt less powerful than the stuff in a current smart TV. There's no fundamental law that says voice recognition must be done at a remote server - yes it's convenient for less powerful devices and that data is useful for developing better voice recognition, but it's still reasonable to believe that voice recognition could be done locally on the TV itself, so there's still no clear consent to be recorded (a transient recording is IIRC legally distinct from one that lasts).

  15. harmjschoonhoven
    Thumb Up

    Re: "things like ... muting the volume"

    Ages ago I put a relais driven by a flip-flop controlled by a microphone and an opamp band-filter in the audio circuit of my Sony TV. I can (un)mute the TV by a whistle.

  16. Swiss Anton
    Megaphone

    Why just Samsung TVs ?

    Surely anything with a microphone and a network connection (not necessarily an IP one) can be used to spy on listen to the unsuspecting.

    The only difference here is that the willing folk are happy to let someone do that (assuming they've read the Ts & Cs). BTW, do they make their house guests aware that the telly is listening to every word???

    1. JamesTQuirk

      Re: Why just Samsung TVs ?

      RTFM !!!! is Answer ...

      Dave is not here, man ...

      (TV) OK, Dave, i am not listening anymore, what would you like to watch, seeing your too fat & lazy to use a remote, or read EULA ... ?

  17. Alan Denman

    Yes, Samsung TVs are spying on you

    Siri knows.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Megaphone

      Re: Yes, Samsung TVs are spying on you

      But Cortana knows more (according to the MS TV adverts)

  18. Chris Miller
    Thumb Up

    Brilliant image accompanying the article

    Hat tip to the subs!

  19. Tom 35 Silver badge

    I wish there was a Samsung TV near by

    When the shit storm broke in the marketing department at Samsung, it would be fun to hear.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    use a VPN...

    Connect your TV to a router that is always connected to a VPN (like f.ex. http://citizenvpn.com ), then at least the data is somewhat anonymous and there's an extra firewall.

    1. Come to the Dark Side

      Re: use a VPN...

      I don't think that helps when it sends the deviceid. If you have a warranty, have to make a service call or gave personal details when you bought the device, no amount of VPN anonymisation is going to help (and using a crap one will quite probably delay the voice rendering).

  21. Martin Maloney
    FAIL

    Orwell updated

    War is peace.

    Freedom is slavery.

    Ignorance is strength,

    Snooping is privacy.

    "...of its privacy policy..."

    should read

    "...of its violation of privacy policy..."

    Not to be outdone by Samsung, LG is up to the same trick:

    LG Will Take The 'Smart' Out Of Your Smart TV If You Don't Agree To Share Your Viewing And Search Data With Third Parties

    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140511/17430627199/lg-will-take-smart-out-your-smart-tv-if-you-dont-agree-to-share-your-viewing-search-data-with-third-parties.shtml

    Here's something that no one seems to have picked up on: back in the 80s, the puny 8-bit computers of the day could convert speech to text. Thirty years later, why doesn't a "SMART TV" have the built-in "intelligence" to handle voice commands?

  22. Innocent-Bystander*

    Tempest in a teapot

    Such a backlash over nothing. It's a bloody screen. Don't let it access your internet connection. Problem solved.

    Control your "smart features" from a trusted device (like a living room computer you built for this purpose). There is zero reason to connect a TV screen to the internet, let alone one with a microphone in it with a stated intent to capture and transmit voice to who knows where. It's a step from there to authorities getting a warrant and silently enabling your mic. Or not getting a warrant and doing the same thing. I'm sure smart TV security is right up there with the best of them...

    Just save yourself the headaches and cut it off the network.

    1. RudeUnion

      Re: Tempest in a teapot

      The real point is you paid for features when you bought an expensive tv and they were implemented with privacy issues. If your phone or computer had similar problems would you just use the phone as a phone or your computer offline? The complaint is they need to fix this problem and satisfy their customers rather than pushback. Wouldn't you like to support a company that is willing to fix problems and satisfy customers?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Samsung Spin... The threat's not over!

    *** Still no information on how easy it is to remotely activate the microphone (or camera) for bugging purposes. With all the routers with faulty firmware out there, surely there is some risk. Certain owners of Smart TV's will be high value targets to hackers, criminals, terrorists and spy agencies etc...

    *** Still no information either on how easy it is for someone in a household to accidentally re-activate the voice recognition feature. What if the baby, grandma or the doggy then hits a certain button on the remote...

    *** Overall, this type of feature is very deceptive. If the onboard system can't handle the workload, it shouldn't be labelled as a Smart TV feature. Why? Because fundamentally this is a cloud feature, not Smart TV functionality!

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Sneaky Samsung Plan

    Samsung want all their TV's connected to the Cloud (CEO's own words at CES). Why? TV makers have being getting crucified in recent years as expensive Smart TV's just aren't selling. No one is buying into 3D or UHD!

    So Big TV needs to sell data to advertisers to recoup the losses, that is why their are pushing for every one of their TV's to be cloud connected and if you don't let it, features will get disabled...

    Executives at Samsung & LG, believe they can create their own Facebook + Google division. They have huge ambitions, and we and our data are for sale!!!

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: The Sneaky Samsung Plan

      Count me amongst the Luddites, then.

      All I want the TV to do is display pictures. Not even change channel from the external input, or mess around with the contrast/brightness/colour, after initial setup.

      At the moment, the only control I use on the TV remote is the on-off.

  25. Tsung
    FAIL

    What's the point of Voice Recognition....

    If you have to push a button on the remote first?

    New way = press button, "channel one please.."

    Old way = press channel 1 button.

    New way = press button, "turn down the volume please"

    old way = press the volume down button

    New way = press button, "turn off please."

    Old way = Buy a TV without all this smart crap built in.

    The only reason I can think of having voice control on a TV is to put a microphone (and camera for skype) in every living room. :/

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Welcome to the Internet of Things

    Where every device is capturing information about you and your family and sending it off to someone else that you have no control over so they can snoop on your lives and profit from your information.

  27. SolidSquid

    Surely this is a published feature of the device and all they're doing is adding the appropriate legalese for it? I mean, when the xbox one has the voice commands enabled it listens to everything said too, but since a TV isn't going to have the processing power of a dedicated console it isn't going to be able to (theoretically) run the speech recognition on the device itself

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    On the basis that I have better stuff to spend my money on

    I'll stick with my TAS* TV, thanks

    * TAS = Thick As Shit

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nuance? Spinvox?

    This is the same Nuance Communications that acquired Spinvox, which was doing it's voice-to-text conversion by outsourcing it to large calls centres in India (at a loss, incidentally, then not paying the staff which led to a few "please, we haven't been paid in days" messages turning up in the transcribed texts).

    I don't know if its still done like that, but there's no reason to assume that a human will not be listening your speech at some point.

  30. Big Safari

    Marshall McLuhan

    "the medium is the message"

    So, they have closed the loop: they first program your brain audio-visually, then they read back whether their objectives have been achieved.

    The best you can do is to walk your kids into the forest and show them REAL REALITY instead of the bull they transmit electronically. Also, they havent bugged up the forests yet.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    wait wait don't spy on me

    Somebody at NPR reads El Reg.

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