Nile Nickel with Steve Gruber Talking About Smart TVs Record Living Room Chatter

February 10, 2015Steve Gruber


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On Steve’s show Nile Nickel discusses Smart TVs Recording Living Room Chatter

Nile’s Show Notes:

Big Brother is not the only one watching you. Your big Samsung TV is watching and listening to you too. The new problem facing technology seems to be concerns with the voice-recognition feature, vital for everyone who finds pressing a few buttons on their remote far too tiresome. Samsung’s small print says that its Smart TV’s voice recognition system will not only capture your private conversations, but also pass them onto third parties.

Technological Expert Nile Nickel uses his expertise to take a look at what this actually means and if our privacy is indeed being evaded by our smart TV.

Nile Nickel can discuss this by answering the following questions:

1. How can Smart TV’s capture our conversations?

They can and do capture our conversations, but they also capture much more.

There’s a microphone and an image sensor (video camera) to track eye movements, and USB readers.

This is so motions, gestures and verbal command can be given to the Smart TV to change channels, record current and future events, or perform Internet searches.

The Smart TVs store this information to review the accuracy of the commands to the implementing the desired action.

This information is then transmitted back to the set manufacturers site for analysis and to improve the Smart TVs performance.

That all sounds good, right?

But as found in the privacy policy of the Samsung’s Smart TVs are a few paragraphs that may send chills down the spine of most consumers, and most people never read it.

According to the document, the unit’s voice recognition protocols can “capture voice commands and associated texts so that [Samsung] can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features.”

The boilerplate language that few people read in its entirety sounds reasonable. That is, until the company adds this warning: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.”

This warning was first reported by The Korea Times and picked up on social media, may add fuel to a raging debate over how much control humans are willing to relinquish to automation for the sake of convenience. Tech companies are resorting to more creative, and some say surreptitious, ways to mine consumer data and profit from it.

But when such capabilities are available out come the hackers.

A team of scientists at Columbia University claim hybrid smart TVs that blur the line between televisions and the Internet are vulnerable to a simple hack. Coined the ‘red-button attack,’ named after the red button used on modern smart TV remotes to access additional content. The hack is apparently remarkably easy to perform.
Read more: Smart TV At Risk to Hackers
” Should consumers enable the voice recognition capability, the voice data consists of TV commands, or search sentences, only. Users can easily recognize if the voice recognition feature is activated because a microphone icon appears on the screen.”

  • Samsung’s small print says that its Smart TV’s voice recognition system will not only capture your private conversations, but also pass them onto third parties.

“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.”

2. Can these recorded words or conversations be passed on to third parties?

As for the third parties mentioned in the privacy policy, Samsung explained it to me like this: “Samsung does not retain voice data or sell it to third parties. If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature, voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search. At that time, the voice data is sent to a server, which searches for the requested content then returns the desired content to the TV.”

But simply based on the privacy policy AND the large amount of money to be made from the data mining companies, I don’t believe it’s if it will happen, only when, if it’s not already going on.

They want to deliver Smart Ad’s (LGs Terminology) in a video LG Smart AD – TVs, Blue Ray players, and fridges spying on you leaked via Live Leak. After some investigation, I found a rather creepy corporate video (since removed, mirrored here; Live Leak Video advertising their data collection practices to potential advertisers. It’s quite long and quite scary.

3. What can be done to secure our privacy rights?

Turn of the LG was, however, embroiled in a privacy controversy in 2013, when its SmartTVs were accused of knowing too much. The company promised to change its policies.

The discovery of the data transmission was made by Jason Huntley, a UK-based IT consultant who blogged about his discovery that a setting buried deep in the system defaults included one which said “Collection of watching info”, which was set to “on”. He found that the data was sent whether the setting was “on” or “off”.

LG Smart TVs logging USB filenames and viewing info to LG servers

LG has defended its actions, saying, “Information such as channel, broadcast source etc. that is collected by certain LG smart TVs is not personal but viewing information”. This was collected “to deliver more relevant advertisements and to offer recommendations to viewers based on what other LG smart TV owners are watching”.

4. Is this just another way technology can work against us?

New technology not only creates new, easier and typically more enjoyable ways for us to do things, but it also creates new and different opportunities to be exploited.

There’s a fascinating thing about new technologies, the way people engage with it is typically different that was originally thought of . . .


So what does LG have to say about this?  A researcher approached them and asked them to comment on data collection, profiling of their customers, collection of usage information and mandatory embedded advertising on products that their customers had paid for.  Their response to this was as follows:


Good Morning

 Thank you for your e-mail.

 Further to our previous email to yourself, we have escalated the issues you reported to LG’s UK Head Office.

 The advice we have been given is that unfortunately as you accepted the Terms and Conditions on your TV, your concerns would be best directed to the retailer.  We understand you feel you should have been made aware of these T’s and C’s at the point of sale, and for obvious reasons LG are unable to pass comment on their actions.

 We apologies for any inconvenience this may cause you. If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact us again.

 So now what?


Your Smart TV not only stores this information, but transmits back to Samsung, LG or ??? But let’s not leave the hackers out of this discussion.