A new generation of high definition television sets are hitting the American market now. Samsung’s top-of-the-line sets will include an internally wired HD camera, twin microphones, face tracking, and speech recognition.
The question is: Who will be able to use these features, in addition to you?
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 are powerful televisions.
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.
And unlike other TVs, which have cameras and microphones as add-on accessories connected by a single, easily removable USB cable, you can’t just unplug these sensors.
During our demo, unless the face recognition learning feature was activated, there was no indication as to whether the camera (such as a red light) and audio mics are on. And as far as the microphone is concerned the is no way to physically disconnect it or be assured it is not picking up your voice when you don’t intend it to do so.
This raises some questions.
* Do the televisions send a user ID or the TV’s serial number to the Samsung cloud whenever it has an Internet connection?
* Does Samsung cross reference a user ID or facial scan to your warranty registration information, such as name, address etc.?
* Can a person or company listen to you, at will, via the microphone and Internet connection?
* Does Samsung’s cloud store all this information? How secure is this extremely personal data?
* Can a hacker intercept this data or view you via the built in camera?
* Can a third-party app program do any of the above?
* Exactly what information does the TV send to Samsung or other parties?
* Does Samsung intend to sell data collected by its Smart TV owners, such as who, what and when one is viewing?
The author contacted Samsung about its privacy policies.
Weeks have passed since we formally requested answers to these questions from Samsung asking what if any privacy assurances Samsung provides. To date no privacy statement has been furnished to HD Guru or end users. The first models with these features arrived on dealer’s shelves over two weeks ago. All that we’ve been told is that when connecting to the Internet, the TVs first connect to the Samsung cloud, and from there, they connect to the various streaming video services and other apps for activation.
If you think this much is scary, read the entire article. Click the link.