By Tuan Nguyen
Posting in Design
Technology designed to adapt to the preferences of each individual user may also be used to pass that information along to hackers or advertisers.
During most recent Consumer Electronics show, industry giant Samsung showcased thier new line of Smart TVs, which featured technologies they felt were capable of revolutionizing the viewer experience.
Attendees who walked by their platform were treated to a magic show of sorts in which reps demonstrated how the seamless integration of sensors, built-in cameras and microphones enabled "smart" features such as gesture control, voice commands and all kinds of interactive and connectivity goodness.
The media, of course, took notice. "Samsung is doubling down on its core TV leadership and attempting to make the TV the main household Internet device, observed ReadWriteWeb's Richard MacManus.
However, it isn't all quite rainbows and butterflies for consumers. That's because, as one industry critic recently pointed out, the same intricate array of computer-inspired hardware and software designed to adapt to the preferences of each individual user can also be used to pass that information along to others without the user's knowledge. Basically, your snazzy new home entertainment system can also be thought of as a high tech peephole.
It was product expert Gary Merson of the web site HD Guru who broke down the manner in which something like this was even conceivably possible. In his analysis, published on MSNBC, Merson thoroughly explained how each component of what is a fairly complex system could be rigged to continuously collect information without anyone suspecting it was even happening. Information, he says, that hackers, or even the manufacturer Samsung can then sell to advertisers.
But before we get to that, I want to be fair and talk a bit more about what makes the TV sets so 'smart' in the first place. The plasma and LED TV sets are built with a camera and microphones located along the top of the screen bezel, both of which are connected to the Internet to allow instant access to readily available apps stored on the Samsung cloud. They also come with face and speech recognition software used by the computer to recognize who's giving the commands and hence learn that person's preferences. For instance, if you like to watch Madmen, but it's not on until later in the evening, it will eventually know enough about you to recommend some other shows you might like to view in the meantime.
All of this sounds great, but here's the crux of Merson's criticism:
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.
Considering how much time we spend interacting or just simply being pre-occupied with our laptops, tablets, smartphones and TVs, the data that's gathered would be of great value to companies that are out to target specific potential consumers. So if your a chronic channel surfer, don't be surprised if you start seeing more commercials for prescription drugs like adderall. Hackers and even CIA can break into the operating system and watch you from your very own home.
Last week, CIA Director David Patreaus acknowledged that the agency had more than a passign interest in tapping into these very technologies to gather intelligence about "persons of interest."
- Related post: CIA can spy on you through your refrigerator
Here's a snippet of the text:
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.
The new TV sets are set to ship this month. However, judging from that, it seems like consumers now have a legit reason to wonder whether electronics companies like Samsung will soon go the way of Google, Facebook, the government and even employers in suddenly having an avid interest in how you spent your Friday night.
More “spy” technologies:
- China’s Area 51? Mysterious site spotted from space
- Video: space station’s streaming webcam to let users spy on earthlings
- How satellite technology may have tracked down Bin Laden
- Jetpacks: Origins of a spy aircraft
On SmartPlanet -- Protecting your privacy:
- How to create an easy-to-remember, ultra-secure password
- Should companies be allowed to ask for your Facebook password?
- Why you might be vulnerable to hackers (but don’t know it)
- How phone hacking works (and other lessons from the News Corp. scandal)
- Police use military spy drones to arrest U.S. citizens
- Dramatic video: hacker vs. computer
Mar 29, 2012
in any shop can, and probably will, for a small fee, give you hardware switches for those nasty cameras and microphones, or just disconnect them. I's the simplest thing in the world for a competent electronics technician. If the camera and mike produce analog signals it is also extremely simple to substitute audio-video signals of one's own choosing, inlcuding feeding the cam and mike signals from other cameras and microphones or the DVD player or even a "test pattern", etc. If you must have face recognition, draw a face on a paper plate on a stick and show that to the TV, using it like the ancient Greek masks. This is a source of endless amusement. At work, the new notebook computers came with built in webcams and I guarantee that 50% of them are covered with a piece of a business card taped in place for personal security reasons. One note about the face recognition cameras on TV sets, they have been very low resolution, just enough for recognition, but there is no reason to think they will all be that dumb going forward. Its all about cost. Maybe it will become illegal under national law for people to disable these spycraft features. For those that have read this far, here is a snippet from the past of TV set spying, that relates to the guy that combs his har before entering the kitchen for fear of being spied on.. TVs have had an electric eye of some kind for decades. If the set has a CRT with a non-diffuse faceplate, and monochrome sets are better for this, the electic eye can put out a signal that can indicate changes in the room. Everyone knows how the picture is made on a CRT: the spot made by the electron beam is swept across the screen, moved down, swept again, until a raster of lines is drawn one under the other and the screen is filled. The whole thing happens 60 times a second in the US, 50 in may other places like Europe. As the instant spot position changes while moving across the screen, its pattern of room illumination changes also. The photoelectric eye of the remote control can be made to sense these variations and they can be correlated to the illumination pattern. There is no need for the spy to derive much 'sync' from the eye signal, because the TV channel keeps the scan always constant. When a person or object is changed in the room, the signal from the eye is different. The variations in instant intensity of the spot due to TV video program material can be subtracted from the eye signal for a normalized intensity level. If the TV is receiving static, it is not too important because the resolution of the system is very poor and the persistence of the CRT phosphor is very long compared to these timescales, so it smooths out anyway. What most paranoid people do not understand is that the remote control eye has no way to transmit its signal out to a spy and that to recover anything at all requires a DSP or a huge analog equivalent with trained persons to operate it. If the TV has a built in cable or satellite TV system with 2-way communication, then yes maybe the signal is going to some dark bunker where mad scientists, working for the illuminati and surrounded by racks of computers and analog equipment, are counting the bowls of popcorn eaten. Otherwise a regular old TV set has to way to talk back to any spy. Furthermore there is not means inside the TV to store the remote eye info, nor to digitze its medium bandwidth (20-100KHz) analog output in realtime for sending as data. The optical remote control on a TV set operates with flashes of infrared 'light' digitally encoded with timing which is quite different. So tell the neighbor not to worry.
I have this strong feeling that this Samsung Smart TV was designed to increase terrorism, since terrorist can easily spy and know where their victims are currently living. As a matter of fact, I really don't see the need for this spying Camera. I say this was definitely a bad move, especially with their competitors like LG soaring with their new models.
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I don't really see why I would need a camera on my telly. And I certainly don't want a bunch of other features I will have no use for. I have a camera on my laptop and on my smart phone. If I want to video call someone, I would just use my laptop instead.
Orwell's "1984" is just happening a little late. Certain school districts used spyware on school-provided laptops to "observe" students in their homes. Why should "Big Brother" be any different?
Unfortunately, it has come to be in the U.S. that a ???person of interest??? is pretty much EVERYBODY! The FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, etc all want to log everything you do or say, for "security" reasons they say. Benjamin Franklin said it best..."Those who give up their freedom in the name of security deserve neither freedom nor security." No, I will not be buying Samsungs spy tv, or any other brand that don't have privacy options. If I want to surf the internet, I have a computer for that, running all kinds of anti-spy software.
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My privacy is my privacy. I certainly am not interested in giving advertisers any more information about me than what they already have. Enough already !
My neighbor unhooks his cable TV when he isn't watching.....he is afraid "They" will watch him...no lie, no joke....he also pulled all land line phone lines out of his house and most of the electrical wiring...only his kitchen is wired and he combs his hair before he goes in there....other than that he is harmless.
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