Smart TV? Not So Clever...

The UK consumer organization Which? has recently revealed that so-called "Smart TV" from Samsung and other makers are in fact able to listen in on conversations you may be having in your living room in front of their sets. The "Smart TVs" come with microphones and thus you are not supposed to need a remote control anymore, just tell your telly what you want to watch! How clever is that? Panasonic, meanwhile, says it "advises users not to include any personal information in the voice commands"...

Tracking sounds like something out of Twelve Monkeys or a Tom Clancy novel, but it is real, and not only that, the companies use your every day conversation to listen in for key words. Samsung even sent data about the names of children of one owner, on an open network. It is also used to control the ads you may get - from your TV. Directly into your home.

LG, Sony, Panasonic and Toshiba and others have similar versions of similar or the same systems, but Samsung seems to lead the pack in terms of trying to hide stuff from its customers. Which? notes that you can turn off such services, but since the whole point of a "Smart TV" is that it is connected to the internet, and to servers connected to these corporations, you then can't use the "smart" applications and so on.

"T&Cs" means terms and conditions, which are not always easy to understand.

Makes me wonder how much data we share anyway when online, but that is another issue. Who thought that while watching TV, conversations you are having with friends or family end up being recorded real time, and sent to corporate headquarters for careful analysis. All for the sake of making a profit. Here is how Which? found out about the tracking, with the help of Jason Huntley, who first alerted the general public about it back in 2013:

Your smart TV is listening to you and hackers might be, too

However, some clever folks recently discovered that Samsung’s voice search feature – known as ‘automatic speech recognition’ (ASR) – was transmitting and receiving data to a third party provider (Nuance Mobility) on TCP port 443. This port usually carries encrypted data, but in this case the data wasn’t actually encrypted by Samsung.

Could someone listen to what you say to your TV?

With the help of Jason Huntley – who broke the original story about smart TV tracking back in 2013 – we went back to our original data and confirmed that unencrypted voice searches were being transmitted by Samsung. We ran a voice search for ‘panama hats’ and you can see this term unencrypted in the data below.

panama hats copy 

We found that not only was the above practice occurring on Samsung smart TVs (both 2013 and 2014 models), but also on Panasonic sets. Only LG smart TVs we tested actually encrypted the voice searches on TCP port 443 (the Sony TVs we looked at did not have voice control).

 Which? has more:

Smart TV tracking

As we reported in September 2014, smart-TV makers - including those listed above - are able to track and monitor the way you use your television like never before, including what you watch, what buttons you press on the remote and the websites you visit on the TV's browser.
This can have benefits, such as more personalised recommendations of things to watch, but there are also potential downsides. In theory, the TV brands can gather vast quantities of data on you and, in some cases, use that information to make money through posting targeted adverts on your smart-TV service.
You give permission for this to happen by agreeing to your TV's T&Cs. You can decline them and still watch TV. In many cases, however, that results in you losing access to some smart functionality of the TV.
We're calling on the TV manufacturers to be more upfront about what they're tracking, and why, plus give you clearer options to opt out if you want to.  Here's a brand-by-brand breakdown of how to turn any tracking off, and what you lose if you do:
  • Samsung: Samsung tracks you if you agree to its T&Cs. If you decline, you can’t access the smart-TV service. If you do agree you can still turn off tracking of your viewing habits by declining the ‘recommendations privacy notice’ in the smart hub settings menu.
  • LG: As LG has stopped tracking (as of September 2014), it has removed options for you to block it. LG's T&Cs still permit it to track you, and if you decline them you can’t access any apps or the LG Store, although you can still use the web browser.
  • Panasonic: If you don’t accept Panasonic's T&Cs, you lose access to all apps, the web browser and content recommendations. If you accept them, you can turn off tracking of your viewing habits via ‘Menu > Network > My Home Cloud settings > Notice > Stop collecting information’.
  • Sony: Sony tracks you like the rest of the brands, but doesn't do so to provide advertising on your smart-TV service - just to provide you with recommendations of things to watch. You can opt out of tracking by ticking ‘Disable Upload Data’ at the setup stage, however you'll lose the recommendations.
  • Toshiba: You can’t access any of the smart-TV services, including the apps and web browser, unless you agree to the T&Cs. Once you do, you can go to ‘Smart hub Settings - Log Upload agreement - and then click ‘disagree’. This should stop tracking. You lose features such as personalised recommendations and the MediaGuide EPG, but can still use the apps and web browser.


Unknown said…

I'll say no more...
Unknown said…
Gomen, first link from just yesterday. 'Allegedly'...
Martin J Frid said…
Thanks for the comments, glad BBC ran that story. "Spying" is such a gentleman's game...

As for the LG, why even own a thing like that in this day and age...?

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