Is Your TV Watching You? – Latest Models Raise Concerns

by Gary Merson

HD Guru
March 22, 2012

from

MSNBC
Website

 



The new
Samsung HDTV has hard-wired camera and microphone,

plus face recognition
and other unprecedented features.
 

 

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.

Samsung has not released a privacy policy clarifying what data it is
collecting and sharing with regard to the new TV sets.

 

And while there is no current evidence
of any particular security hole or untoward behavior by Samsung’s
app partners, Samsung has only stated that it “assumes no
responsibility, and shall not be liable” in the event that a product
or service is not “appropriate.”

Samsung demoed these features to the press earlier this month. The
camera and microphones are built into the top if the screen bezel in
the 2012 8000-series plasmas and are permanently attached to the top
of the 7500- and

8000ES-series LED TVs
. A Samsung
representative showed how, once set up and connected to the
Internet, these models will automatically talk to the Samsung cloud
and enable viewers to use new and exciting apps.

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.

Samsung does provide the ability to manually reposition the TV’s
camera away from viewers.

 

The LED TV models allow you to manually
point it upward, facing the ceiling; the plasma’s camera can be
re-aimed to capture objects in the rear of the TV according a
Samsung spokesperson.
 

 

 


Privacy
concerns


We began to wonder exactly what data Samsung collects from its new
“eyes and ears” and how it and other companies intend use it, which
raises the following questions:

  • Can Samsung or
    Samsung-authorized companies watch you watching your Samsung
    TV?

  • 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?

Companies desiring to provide highly
targeted advertisements to you via the TV screen or external
marketing would find this data extremely valuable.

“Hey, you look a little tired, how
about some Ambien? I’m seeing a little grey, have you tried
Grecian Formula? Joe, it looks like you packed on a few pounds
recently, here’s information from Weight Watchers. Hey kids, you
look bored, look at these TOYS!”

So what, if any, privacy does Samsung
promise by way of a stated policy?

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.

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.

Want to read the owner’s manual for your new Samsung TV?

 

This is accomplished by download, as
Samsung stopped including printed owner’s manuals at least two years
ago. However, before you may download the manual, you must first
agree to the following online statement:

Samsung assumes no responsibility, and shall not be liable, in
connection with whether any such products or services will be
appropriate, functional or supported for the Samsung products or
services available in your country.

We asked Samsung to define “appropriate” but to date have not
received a response. We will update readers with a response or a
privacy statement if and when Samsung chooses to provide one.
 

 

 


Security
threats


Don’t assume a TV is an un-hackable island! Samsung does not
disclose what operating system is within its TVs, therefore we
cannot confirm if it is Android and/or any other that might have a
prior history of hacking.

It has been widely reported Android phones have been hacked allowing
outside control of phones, via third party apps.

Countless companies have had their networks hacked, causing
thousands of customers’ personal data to be released to the world.
If this were to happen to Samsung it is theoretically possible
hackers could gain access to names, addresses – and images of the
faces of entire families.

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?

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?”

There are security systems that go over
the Internet, however, many are encrypted. Is any Samsung’s data
encrypted? The company doesn’t say. Generally security companies let
customers know when their data is encrypted, as it is a selling
point.

In addition, the Samsung HDTVs come with an external infrared
blaster that allows users to control a cable or satellite box via
voice, gesture or the Samsung remote.

 

We ask:

Does the TV send this information
over to Samsung’s cloud as well? Does Samsung now know what
other equipment you have, when you’re home to use it, what
channel you’re viewing and when?

The models with this unprecedented
feature set are the 2012 8000 series plasmas,

  • PN51E8000

  • PN60E8000

  • PN64E8000,

…and LED models,

  • UN46ES7500

  • UN50ES7500

  • UN55ES7500

  • UN46ES8000

  • UN55ES8000

  • UN60ES8000

  • UN65ES8000

Many of these models are now at dealers
with the rest scheduled to ship within the next few weeks.

With so many questions raised and no answers provided, HD Guru
recommends you weigh the possibilities and decide whether or not you
care about its unknown personal privacy risks before purchasing one
of these HDTVs.
 

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