In Samsungland, TV watches you

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9 February 2015 | 0

Niall Kitson portraitThe attraction of the Internet of Things (IoT) is based on the savings in time and effort made when appliances ‘learn’ to work without human guidance. It’s the fridge that knows when you’re out of milk; the thermostat that turns itself on and off to suit the time you’re at home; the vacuum cleaner that knows the best way to do the front room without driving into the fireplace; and now it’s the TV that uses voice recognition to find out what you really think of Operation Tranfsormation. That’s the myth which has been doing the rounds on social media after a turgid paragraph of legalese was misinterpreted as evidence of consumer surveillance.

According to a snippet from Samsung’s SmartTV terms and conditions tweeted by journalist Monty Munford this morning, you can forget about having a quiet word about anything within earshot of your 80″ flat screen 4K monster. Tucked in with the usual terms and conditions is the following paragraph: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of voice recognition”. So as your TV learns to understand you in calibrating its voice control features it’s also gathering information about you and your device to be passed along for processing by a shadowy third party like the NSA or GCHQ.

Yes, the rageratti have been filling social media with comments about the end of privacy and the similarities between Big Data and Big Brother but there is really nothing to be alarmed about here. Yes, the advent of Big Data has created a world where if something is recordable then it will be logged and analysed either as a single point or as part of a large data set. This principal can be seen at work whenever Netflix, IMDB or Amazon make recommendations for you based on purchasing history or the number of stars you award a film after watching it. No service exists in a data vacuum today, let’s not go near the goldmines of Facebook or Google.

Why does Samsung want to be so nosy? The official line is that the more you use voice recognition features the better the TV can respond. Actually, the same goes for gesture recognition and facial recognition – both of which are also included as standard in smart TVs now, thanks to a built-in camera. The horror.

Going through the T&Cs there is plenty to be worried about but there is one thing the consumer can do to solve any such problems: pull the cable.

If you consider voice capture intrusive you can turn it off in the settings. If you think liking and disliking content in a way that can be captured is a bit much – you don’t have to do it. If you don’t want Samsung head office to know what you look like… you get the idea.

Yes, it’s alarming that IoT is turning everything into a spreadsheet-friendly analytics exercise but you don’t have to be an unwilling/oblivious participant. After all, this is TVs we’re dealing with, not mobile phones. Now there’s something to worry about.

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