In the novel 1984, every television set could not only watch what a person was doing int heir house, but it could also listen to and interact with that person as well. A similar television can also be found in Fahrenheit 451. Today, Samsung has accomplished this task in a new line of televisions already in stores.
Samsung’s 2012 top-of-the-line plasmas and LED HDTVs offer new features never before available within a television including a built-in, internally wired HD camera, twin microphones, face tracking and speech recognition. While these features give you unprecedented control over an HDTV, the devices themselves, more similar than ever to a personal computer, may allow hackers or even Samsung to see and hear you and your family, and collect extremely personal data.
While Web cameras and Internet connectivity are not new to HDTVs, their complete integration is, and it’s the always connected camera and microphones, combined with the option of third-party apps (not to mention Samsung’s own software) gives us cause for concern regarding the privacy of TV buyers and their friends and families.
These Samsung TVs locate and make note of registered viewers via sophisticated face recognition software. This means if you tell the TV whose faces belong to which users in your family, it personalizes the experience to each recognized family member. If you have friends over, it could log these faces as well.
In addition, the TV listens and responds to specific voice commands. To use the feature, the microphone is active. What concerns us is the integration of both an active camera and microphone. A Samsung representative tells us you can deactivate the voice feature; however this is done via software, not a hard switch like the one you use to turn a room light on or off.
Make no mistake, these televisions invade your privacy in numerous, insidious ways. It not only collects personal data, it attaches a face to that data. Along with that data, the voice commands will be attached to the facial recognition data. Given the fact that there is no way to physically disconnect the microphone, there is no way to tell if it’s actually turned off when the television is turned off. It is also unknown whether or not turning the microphone off via the software is a permanent fix or if it only works until the television is turned back on.
The camera in the television is also permanently attached. While the LED models allow you to turn the camera up towards the ceiling, it, too, cannot be turned off. The plasma televisions’ cameras can be pointed towards the rear of the television, but neither solution is ideal given the fact that the functions of the microphone are not completely known.
Samsung induces its new Smart TV owners to register online by offering a free three-month extension of the TV’s warranty. This would couple user names and addresses to their TV serial numbers, if the company so desired.
The TV has a built-in Facebook app. Can the TV make the next connection and access your Facebook account and match other viewers to their Facebook pictures for even more personal data?
Once you give away all this personal data, there are no guarantees that this information will not be hacked. Samsung’s operating system is currently unknown and there is no way to confirm exactly how secure their system may or may not be. Owners of these Samsung televisions should be concerned about the very real possibility of having all their private personal information hacked, particularly since Samsung intends on introducing apps that will allow their televisions to be turned into home security systems.
A Samsung representative said the company is working on apps that will allow its Smart TV owners to turn their televisions into a silent home-security system by allowing remote viewing on a smartphone or tablet via the TV’s built-in camera. This ability makes us ask, “Who else could gain access this video feed?”
Samsung has not said whether or not these video feeds would be encrypted or not. If not, the feed would be widely available to anyone who wishes to stalk a family or an individual. It would then be trivial to figure out daily routines. One could then, theoretically, known when the house would be empty or a person home alone to rob the house or do bodily harm to a person. An encrypted connection could yield similar results, it would only be slightly more difficult.
If you’re looking into purchasing a new television set and are concerned about invasions of privacy, you’d do best to avoid these Samsung televisions. If you are part of the, “I’ve got nothing to hid,” crowd, by all means, put your entire life up for grabs in the cloud and don’t worry about what happens to your data when, inevitably, it gets hacked.