Is your Television Spying on you?

Scott Calonico

Is your Television Spying on you?

The term “Orwellian” is referred to a lot these days. It’s defined on Wikipedia as a “societal condition” that is “destructive to the welfare of a free and open society.” Anyone who keeps up to date with what’s going on in the world of IT privacy and security will understand the word’s current pervasiveness in the world’s media.

In case you’re not familiar with the work of author George Orwell, the term “Orwellian” is mainly related to his seminal book, “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” depicting a dystopian society where citizens are highly controlled by the government using surveillance and propaganda. Many people think that modern society is edging uncomfortably close to Orwell’s fiction.

One of the most memorable features of the book, and its movie adaptations, are devices known as “telescreens,” which act as entertainment devices, outlets for state propaganda, and surveillance cameras. They encapsulated the essence of Orwell’s controlled society and provided a somewhat spooky window into what the future could be like.

With all that in mind, we can reveal something rather scary: these devices (practically) already exist.

Samsung Smart TVs

A recent BBC report has revealed that Samsung Smart TVs can listen to what’s going on around them. More to the point, Samsung state that they “may share” the things they hear with “third parties.”

Essentially, the reason the TVs are “listening” is because of Samsung’s voice activation functionality, which allows users to control their TVs with voice commands. Samsung say that these features are only activated after a button is pressed on the remote control, and it’s assumed the “third party” is the company (Nuance), who provide the “speech to text” service on behalf of Samsung.

According to the BBC’s report, Samsung state that they don’t store or sell the captured audio.

The Wider Issue

Even though Samsung’s explanations should provide some reassurance to consumers, especially those of the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” mind-set, the fact that an increasing number of devices can now accept voice commands does raise a number of concerning privacy issues.

There’s previously been another revelation of this kind relating to LG Smart TVs, and an even larger outcry when people discovered the listening capabilities of the Facebook Messenger app last year.

The fact is, very few people really read the privacy policies, and against a backdrop of constant revelations relating to the kind of “back-doors” the authorities allegedly have into all kinds of systems, the privacy conscious would be best advised to either start reading the policies or refrain from activating any features that allow their devices to spy on them.

If you spend any amount of time on the Internet, you’ve probably already been spooked by the accuracy of some of the targeted advertising and felt as if “they know you.” Well, maybe they do…