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Government Technology News

Samsung Warns Customers To Think Twice About What They Say Near Smart TVs (theantimedia.org) 402

In a troubling new development in the domestic consumer surveillance debate, an investigation into Samsung Smart TVs has revealed that user voice commands are recorded, stored, and transmitted to a third party. The company even warns customers not to discuss personal or sensitive information within earshot of the device.

The new Samsung controversy stems from the discovery of a single haunting statement in the company's "privacy policy," which states: "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."
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Samsung Warns Customers To Think Twice About What They Say Near Smart TVs

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  • who'd have thunk? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by The Real Dr John ( 716876 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:08PM (#51507383) Homepage

    If it is a recording device, that's what it is supposed to do.

    • by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:10PM (#51507397) Journal

      Well, that's the rub, isn't it? The TV is not supposed to be a recording device.

      • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:14PM (#51507427)

        Once again, I note the biggest error of the book 1984: It failed to anticipate the role the private sector would come to play in loss of privacy.

        • by The Real Dr John ( 716876 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:23PM (#51507479) Homepage

          Yeah, and 1984 was supposed to be a cautionary tale for the public, not an instruction manual for the psychopaths running things.

          • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @07:27PM (#51507819) Homepage Journal

            Two things:

            First Orwell was an optimist [fyngyrz.com]

            Secondly, the specific concern alluded to in TFS is why one of the most important things the tech community today could accomplish is to achieve a solid voice-input capability that runs entirely locally (and is not user specific or require particular training out of the box or out of the compiler.)

            Alexa, Amazon's commercial voice savant, sends very word you speak "to the cloud" which is, of course a "third party" (and potentially, a 4th, 5th... Nth party.)

            Mycroft, the "open" voice savant, holding so much promise because it doesn't use Amazon's excreble model of "you must provide anticipated result phrases for everything you want to do, and set up and maintain (and probably buy) a secure server", wraps that promise in... you guessed it. Sends everything you say to "the cloud."

            Both suffer from "if the net is down, I become a deaf idiot" syndrome as a side effect of the cloudy thinking that went into their design.

            The day I get a real "can listen and produce cleartext locally" application (or device) is the day my home (and car, and boat) gain significant automation.

            I know this issue doesn't concern a lot of people, particularly young people. The net is "always there" and privacy "WTF is privacy?"... but I think that's a function of them being young and not really understanding either the depths that some people will sink to, or the relative fragility of the network. After they've been stepped on enough, and lost their connections enough, I suspect they'll modify their stances somewhat.

            • by Burz ( 138833 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @07:54PM (#51507993) Journal

              Orwell and his mentor, Huxley, were trying to describe very different or even opposite dystopias. What we're ending up with is "mostly all of the above".

            • by jasno ( 124830 )

              Just remember, a closed-source device that can do TTS locally, and one which can connect to the net, can possess nearly all of the same nefarious capability as one which sends everything to the cloud.

              It would be trivial to load(and even field upgrade) a list of watch words which trigger steganographic(or just overt) communication back to a server regarding what is being said. Uploading the raw data to the cloud just makes it easier.

        • Once again, I note the biggest error of the book 1984: It failed to anticipate the role the private sector would come to play in loss of privacy.

          Even bigger error, that the government is likely to be the hero in the story (since Gov regulation will be the only force that can stop this)

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by JBMcB ( 73720 )

            They won't ban private companies collecting your data to protect your privacy, they'll ban it 'cause they don't want the competition.

            • by Nikkos ( 544004 )

              In the case of the NSA, they just make the companies hold (mine) the info.

            • by Fjandr ( 66656 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @02:16AM (#51509331) Homepage Journal

              No, they'll let private companies continue to do something they are not (publicly) allowed to do themselves. Then they'll simply buy the data using taxpayer money. This is something that's been ongoing for a long time, so it should only come as a surprise to those dipping their toe into the waters of "security" politics for the very first time.

          • "Gov regulation will be the only force that can stop this"

            A router running at normal speed down and limited to about 256 bps up would go a long way toward taming it. Sure the TV can record stuff, but it would need to be really selective about what it tried to pass on to a third party.

            I wonder if it will be possible to hack said third parties by feeding the microphone circuit improperly formed audio data. Wouldn't that be ironic?

            • Re:who'd have thunk? (Score:5, Interesting)

              by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @07:58PM (#51508013)

              A router running at normal speed down and limited to about 256 bps up would go a long way toward taming it.

              Except that in our brave new world, "smart" devices don't necessarily need you to give them an Internet connection before they can phone home. Some already have built-in wireless and arrangements with mobile data networks. Given sufficient market penetration, mesh-style networking also becomes a possibility. Unless we're all planning on living inside Faraday cages, we need more powerful solutions to this creeping invasion of privacy than merely controlling our standalone Internet connection(s).

            • by epyT-R ( 613989 )

              or just open the unit up and disconnect the mic..

        • That's probably because you're primarily considering the material that a bespectacled academic [theonion.com] would review, rather than that which a contemporary ponytail-adorned pencil-stash might be exposed to.

        • by catchblue22 ( 1004569 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @07:07PM (#51507707) Homepage

          Once again, I note the biggest error of the book 1984: It failed to anticipate the role the private sector would come to play in loss of privacy.

          Not really. What has actually happened is that the most powerful actors in the private sector have merged with and taken over the state.

        • by radiumsoup ( 741987 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @07:28PM (#51507823)

          well, that's not at all the message of the book, though, is it?

          It's not a book about loss of privacy, it's a book about the evils of State suppression of free will, and government intrusion into privacy is a component of that suppression.

          It's very much like saying "the biggest error of the book 1984: it failed to anticipate the role that slang would come into play in the loss of colorful language". While it might be tangentially true, it's not important enough to the message of the book for the author to address, so calling it the "biggest error" is not in any short measure hyperbole.

        • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @07:40PM (#51507887) Homepage

          He gazed up at the enormous Logo. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the large screen. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished.

            He had won the victory over himself. He loved Samsung.

        • Not 1984 (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ArchieBunker ( 132337 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @11:35PM (#51508837) Homepage

          The world is more like the movie Brazil. Trying to be like 1984 but failing due to incompetence.

      • How do you think siri or google voice command work??

        This is nothing at all new.. Not to say it's a good thing. How easily it triggers is certainly a factor.

        At least google can have a local option if you work hard enough to enable it.

        • How do you think siri or google voice command work??

          They are not supposed to execute your command, not record it

        • Siri at least requires a button to be pushed. Google and cortina have always on options but those always turned unpopular. And Google has begun turning off the always recording functions.

          Samsung smart tv record and transmit continuously. The only option is to disable smart tv network connection.

          Which is a good reason to use roku, Apple TV or chromecast.

          • Siri at least requires a button to be pushed.

            Not on the most recent iPhones, it doesn't.

            On a side note - I've occasionally used the "Hey Siri" jailbreak tweak on my older phone - it allows you to have Siri always listening, even on older phones that aren't currently plugged in. But that's a conscious decision made under specific circumstances; e.g. I'm waiting for someone to contact me and am washing dishes (so using the button method of activation would be problematic). The vast majority of the time I *don't* want my phone listening in.

      • by vlad30 ( 44644 )

        Well, that's the rub, isn't it? The TV is not supposed to be a recording device.

        Could be fun though place radio on talk balk channel near TV, Or recordings of samsung info like the samsung washing machines catching on fire stories, Now hack the smart tv's in samsung to see and hear the results

      • Well, that's the rub, isn't it? The TV is not supposed to be a recording device.

        Preamble... Yes, I abhor this functionality personally, and I think these devices should ship with a giant caution tape banner stuck to the screen explicitly declaring "we're spying on you. Yes, now." But...

        That's not actually accurate in this case. The product in question isn't a TV. It's a "Smart TV". As in, a television with other functions. A person who buys one of these paid a premium for those extra functions.

      • by Namarrgon ( 105036 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @07:23PM (#51507789) Homepage

        From Samsung's privacy policy [samsung.com]:

        In addition, Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. Samsung will collect your interactive voice commands only when you make a specific search request to the Smart TV by clicking the activation button either on the remote control or on your screen and speaking into the microphone on the remote control.

        Emphasis mine. Check the source, people, not the clickbait blogs.

        • by jbn-o ( 555068 ) <mail@digitalcitizen.info> on Sunday February 14, 2016 @09:43PM (#51508429) Homepage

          You have no idea when it records; "it records only when recognising voice" is an assertion that goes beyond what you know. Anytime nonfree (user-subjugating, proprietary) software is in control of a computer, that computer is not really under the user's control and we can't tell what it will do or when. That's the power of the proprietor at work.

          Trackers (aka cell phones or mobile phones), most people's laptop computers, and now some TVs, all have microphones in them under the control of proprietary software. There's simply no way to tell when the mic is active, where the data is going, or to get consent that the recording only goes where the user wants it to go. Privacy policies change, software updates happen (and sometimes without user control or vetting), and software behavior doesn't always conform to stated policies (not that the user would have any chance to know what proprietary software is doing anyhow). The same applies to cameras, GPS units, tracker/cell phone towers, and more.

          Ultimately regardless of whether the policy matches how the software works, when the device is under the control of nonfree software that device is a threat to a user's privacy and users are not in control of the device.

    • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:15PM (#51507433) Journal

      Well yes, but in the past voice command processing has been implemented locally. When I used to say "Open Word" to my IPAQ back in 2003, nobody at Microsoft got sent an audio clip. I grant you voice commands were highly limited, and you had to know some syntax to get anything more advanced done than launching an application. OOTH you did not need to worry your device was spying on you.

      I think this is kinda of an insane position for Samsung to take. They need to find away to address the privacy concerns or make it possible for people to 'securely' disable the feature, like maybe be able to unplug the pickup mike!

      Consider TVs are things people put in their living rooms and in their bed rooms. These are our most private places. I want to be able to have a conversation in my own homes without outsiders listening or even potentially listening in, I bet if you ask most customers they'd say the same thing! I even suspect if you made it a conditional like, you can either have voice activation on your TV or know we are not listening to you, suddenly voice activation would not be considered a feature.

      • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

        I think this is kinda of an insane position for Samsung to take. They need to find away to address the privacy concerns or make it possible for people to 'securely' disable the feature, like maybe be able to unplug the pickup mike!

        Have you heard about Siri (Apple), Cortana (MS), Echo (Amazon) and whatever you call Googles technology (and Onstar's "always on")? What Samsung has done is nothing new. Perhaps they are actually better than the rest for actually being honest as to where the audio goes.

      • I think this is kinda of an insane position for Samsung to take. They need to find away to address the privacy concerns or make it possible for people to 'securely' disable the feature, like maybe be able to unplug the pickup mike!

        Time to write to your local politician.
        It seems to be the norm now with the likes of MS, Google, Facebook etc all feeling like they are entitled to your private life. It would seem the obvious solution is an open-source, hardware edge router/firewall for the home that can simply block everything at the gateway.
        Does anyone know of anything even remotely user friendly in this space?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by SNRatio ( 4430571 )

          Time to write to your local politician.

          Almost ... Time to write to your local politician and explain this applies to both the TV in their office and the TV in the office of the lobbyist that they called.

      • When I used to say "Open Word" to my IPAQ back in 2003, nobody at Microsoft got sent an audio clip. I grant you voice commands were highly limited,

        That's the key. It's easy to record an audio clip, and figure out which of a dozen keywords it comes closest to matching. It's much, much harder to record an audio clip and try to find a match in a library of 20,000 words.

        Hopefully in the future, processors will come down in power and cost enough for this generic speech recognition to be done locally on the

        • Re:who'd have thunk? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @02:38AM (#51509393)

          That's the key. It's easy to record an audio clip, and figure out which of a dozen keywords it comes closest to matching.

          Something the ipaq did 12 years ago.

          It's much, much harder to record an audio clip and try to find a match in a library of 20,000 words.

          If only we had proessessors several orders of magnitude more powerful than a 2003 ipaq. With thousands of time more RAM, and multiple cores...

          oh wait.

          But for the time being, transmitting the audio to a beefy server is the best we've got.

          Just how beefy are these servers? I don't need it to service millions or thousands or even 10s of users at once. Just me. I bet my desktop has enough beef to match it. And I bet that my smartphone, several orders of magnitude stronger than an 2003 ipaq, could be a pretty remarkable personal assistant just with its local resources.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by synaptik ( 125 ) *
      In capitalist United States, TV watches you!
    • Even if listening for voice commands, it is NOT supposed to send recordings to third parties (may or may not be reasonable for interpretation of the voice command), who then store it (I don't see any reason for this).

  • Neat! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:09PM (#51507387)

    "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."

    Okie doke, I'll do something to ensure that this never happens... I'll never purchase a Samsung TV.

    • I don't think this is unique to Samsung. Don't all such 'talk to me' services have a similar provision, since they can't necessarily process all voice recognition on the device itself? If you happen to say something personal while the device is sending the data 'home' for processing, well there you go.
    • Re:Neat! (Score:5, Informative)

      by sanf780 ( 4055211 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:19PM (#51507461)
      Add LG, Sony and Vizio to the list too.

      TVs are not the dumb boxes of ye olde times, specially the high end ones. However, they are not smart on what they do.

      • As long as they don't require voice commands to turn on or switch inputs , then we just don't give them the WPA2 key, right?

      • Re:Neat! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dinfinity ( 2300094 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:40PM (#51507569)

        The whole concept of a 'TV' is antiquated anyway. At this point, I actually just want to buy a display.

        Pretty much all the non-display related 'features' the TV manufacturers provide in their devices are painfully obsolete and dysfunctional compared to what (some) set-top boxes provide. Considering that most of the 'smart' features are going to be either ignored or hated (either from the start or within a year), the wise decision would be to focus on creating the best displays possible.

    • by Kythe ( 4779 )
      An alternative is not connecting the TV to your network. Of course, you'll end up paying extra for unused features.
    • by Trogre ( 513942 )

      There is no reason to think that other "smart" TVs don't do exactly the same.

      This is part of companies pushing the IdiOT first as a premium option, now as standard in the mistaken belief that people actually want that crap.

    • Or, you know, you could just not give it access to your network.

      You want YouTube or Netflix? Buy an Amazon Fire or AppleTV or one of the dozen other options to stream it off the internet.

    • This is how speech recognition is done. Instead of being done in-device (which would require a semi-hefty CPU), the sound of what you say is recorded, then transmitted to a server which does the heavy lifting. The text of the recognized speech is then transmitted back to the device.

      Samsung is just being up-front about all this, instead of burying the disclosure in a dense EULA like some companies do. You can argue that a smart TV doesn't need speech recognition, but after having used Roku's voice sear
  • by theCzechGuy ( 1888010 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:09PM (#51507391)
    A big screen that tells me what I should think and listens to everything I say... I'm sure I've read about this somewhere....
  • Anti-features (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:15PM (#51507437)

    The company even warns customers not to discuss personal or sensitive information within earshot of the device.

    Then it's an anti-feature and the device is working against my interest. The device is consequently not worth my time or money and is not something I want in my home.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:22PM (#51507473)

    This is a problem with ALL technology nowadays.

    Business is under the delusion that more information collected about their customers is better - regardless of their privacy.

    Thanks Big Data!

    I am becoming a Luddite. Consumer technology has jumped the shark.

    It's no longer about making my life better but about collecting information for business to sell us more shit.

    It's all about selling. It's not some conspiracy - it's just ape brains wanting to make more money. That is all.

    Amazon, Netflix, Walmart, Google, Yahoo! Microsoft, Bank of America, Chase Morgan, etc .... just want more revenue and we're just a commodity to be exploited.

    It's just numbers. We're just numbers. And when we buy Samsung's and anyone else's crap, we're feeding it.

    Cut the cable as much as you can. Save money and stop buying their shit. Buy basic cars without the crap. Stop buying Android and Apple products. Stop buying.

    Everyone who asks for your identity tell them that you don't give that out.

    Freeze your credit. It stops identity thieves (it's telling that stealing credit info is stealing an identity.) and it slows down buying crap.

    Our society want us in debt. Cars, housing, education medical ... one way or another, you'll be in debt sometime.

  • by wbr1 ( 2538558 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:27PM (#51507497)
    The only reasons to constantly record and send are nefarious. Period.

    It is not hard to achieve the same functionality through a button press. Or like Google does, a locally recognized series of words. Google Now has you train your device as to how you say Okay Google, so that ostensibly it does not send data until you do this and INSTRUCT THE DEVICE THAT IT IS SAFE SHARE AUDIO.

    The only reasons for this are greed, stupidity, and gvmnt back doors. It's like anal sex. Once you are desensitized, the door opens for more intrusion.

    • Who ever said it was constantly recording? Where is there evidence for that? It records only when you click the Voice Recognition button.

  • by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:29PM (#51507505) Journal

    Stop talking to yourself.

  • Dumb TV (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert@slashdo t . f i renzee.com> on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:29PM (#51507507) Homepage

    Is it possible to still buy a dumb tv?
    I want one that's basically just a monitor, i have an external audio receiver and various STBs, consoles etc... The TV just acts as a dumb display device with switchable inputs. It doesn't even need a built in receiver, just the HDMI and AV inputs.

    • I purposefully bought a dumb ons for my Ruko3. Smart TVs are stupid regardless of spying due to obsolescence and being locked in with a TV vendor who has a financial interest to have you buy another TV every year to get Android updates.

      No thanks. When my Roku3 goes obsolete I'll just buy a new one. Not throw the whole thing out. Idiots.

      FYI I almost dove Mac headfirst in 2010. Why not? Same issue. Video card is obsolete? Throw out $2000 machine and buy a new Mac! Uhm no

    • by zm ( 257549 )
      Just don't connect the TV to the network.
      • Re:Dumb TV (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Master Moose ( 1243274 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @07:57PM (#51508011) Homepage

        The problem with this is the purchase.

        Buying a "Smart TV" whether you plan to connect it or not provides sales data to the retailer and manufacturer that people indeed want T.Vs with these functions.

        Its positive reinforcement by those protesting the cause - Like everyone that buys a Windows P.C. only to wipe windows and install an alternate OS. HP and Microsoft have just received your $$

    • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )
      Look up commercial displays. Not all are dumb so be careful, but many are just panels and inputs.
    • by fnj ( 64210 )

      It's called a computer monitor. Works fine.

  • how about a (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Revek ( 133289 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:36PM (#51507551) Homepage

    Physical switch on the mic you can turn off or on. Perhaps with a nice indicator light.

    • by fnj ( 64210 )

      Physical switch on the mic you can turn off or on. Perhaps with a nice indicator light.

      Cut the motherfucker out altogether and throw it in the trash. The same for the camera.

    • They provide a Voice Recognition button, on the remote and on the screen. It's off at other times.

    • Re:how about a (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Burz ( 138833 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @07:49PM (#51507971) Journal

      Physical switch on the mic you can turn off or on. Perhaps with a nice indicator light.

      These are showing up on at least one laptop brand: https://puri.sm/librem-15/ [puri.sm]

      Would be interesting to see if any old laptops from 15-20 years ago had such switches.

      As for 'airplane mode' radio cutoff switches, those are going away in favor of purely software controlled transceivers. On Thinkpads, I think the 2012 models were the last to have the switches.

  • by ewibble ( 1655195 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:47PM (#51507605)

    Although this is bad I would be more concerned with that internet connected recording device your pocket, that you install random software on.

  • by drolli ( 522659 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:52PM (#51507625) Journal

    What is so fucking difficult about local voice recognition? The number of word a TV set would need to distinct could easily be downloaded completly every day an the TV could recognize these, and if it does not understand what i say *do nothing*.

    • by fnj ( 64210 )

      Right. We had 4 MHz Z-80s running speech recognition and synthesis in the 1980s.

  • by taniwha ( 70410 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @07:20PM (#51507765) Homepage Journal

    How did anyone think this was a good idea? it wasn't just that some lone hacker snuck this in .... there were committees, marketing buy in, engineers who did the work, management who OK'd the budgets ..... and no one stood up and said "this is not a good ioea"? no one?

  • ...they'll be giving away t.v.'s for free, now?
  • You have to watch what you say near your fucking TV set now? No thanks, I haven't watched TV for a few years now, and don't plan to start.
  • This has been discussed on Slashdot before. Just don't configure the WiFi.

  • Yes, folks, it's not only NSA reading your email, but your iOT devices, and your TV are spying on you. Samsung has got tons of well deserved negative publicity for this and also because this spying could not be disabled. Anyone suspect that Apple TV with Siri does the same thing? It won't belong before iOT enabled toasters and toothbrushes will be telling NSA why kind bread you toast and the brand of toothpaste you use. I solved this problem by disabling voice commands on all my devices and using Snort wi
  • by WaffleMonster ( 969671 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @07:48PM (#51507955)

    What is needed are mandatory privacy related (non)compliance labels or central clearinghouse where consumers can quickly check the creep factor of products they are about to purchase.

    The problem is rarely people don't care about these issues. Nobody wants conversations conducted in their private homes uploaded to the Internet.

    The problem is exclusively lack of visibility. Consumers simply have no idea or no options. If companies can no longer get away with hiding bullshit under the radar it shall either pressure them to change behavior or create a market for new entrants to fill demand.

    This is really no different than energy efficiency labeling. Without it nobody knows and inefficient hardware costs the manufacturer nothing. With it and widespread consumer recognition efficiency becomes a selling point that costs the manufacturer market share.

  • by DMJC ( 682799 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @08:12PM (#51508071)
    The problem here is a rogue device turning on the user. The answer is Open Source. Samsung TVs use an embedded Linux distribution. it is up to the Open Source community to lobby to get the rest of the device Open Sourced to the point that you can run an Open Source Graphics stack on the TV and give the user full control of the device. Without intense lobbying, or hardware jailbreaking, the manufacturers will not change their behavior on this issue willingly.
  • by FrozenGeek ( 1219968 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @10:58PM (#51508701)
    to scrap my cable service and toss the TV out the window (SCTV had it right).

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