Your Smart TV May Be Spying on You

You know that personal conversation you had in your living room? The one you thought was private? Someone was listening.

Who is this uninvited third party? Believe it or not, it actually turns out that you did invite him. You even gave him permission to eavesdrop on you. You even offered him a room to stay. He’s almost part of the family.

Well, IT is almost part of the family …

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It turns out smart TVs may be a little smarter than most people think. When you watch TV, your TV could be watching you.

Televisions are growing up before our very eyes. What used to be a friendly box that made you smile is now a “smart” device that helps you explore the world.

Newer TVs from Samsung (SSNLF) and some other companies have features to help you connect with various online services. They also try to help you sort through the thousands of channels you could potentially watch and find the much smaller list that you want to watch.

In order to do this, the TV has to know something about you and your preferences. That’s warning sign #1. How well should your TV know you?

If you have the latest Samsung model, your TV can respond to voice commands. Instead of fumbling to find the remote, you just speak up.

“ESPN, please …” and presto, you’re watching ESPN.

This nice feature comes with a privacy policy that says …

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.

I’m not making this up. Follow the privacy policy link to read it yourself on the Samsung site.

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So, who is this “third party” that gets to hear you? Media reports say it is Nuance Communications (NUAN). Nuance makes speech recognition software.

Now granted, smart TVs aren’t as “smart” as they seem. They can understand simple voice commands, but their little brains can’t decipher everything. They upload complex requests to Nuance’s more powerful servers, which tell the TV what you want.

What’s more, Samsung is kind enough to warn you (deep in the fine print) that Nuance might hear more than you wish. This begs the question: What safeguards and precautions does Nuance take to protect what it hears?

We don’t know.

The companies do point out that Nuance only listens while you are pressing a specific button on your remote. However, the TV itself is listening all the time.

Could a smart hacker trick your TV into uploading everything it hears? I suspect so … and I’m positive the U.S. and other governments could do it.

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Of course, if nothing exciting ever happens in your living room, the TV and Nuance servers will simply get bored. The very idea that they are listening is still a bit creepy, though.

This isn’t just a family threat either. Many companies now have big-screen TVs in their conference rooms. A curious competitor could be monitoring strategy meetings.

Furthermore, TVs are not the only device with this kind of capability. The iPhone 4S and later models with the Siri digital assistant have a hands-free feature you can enable. Just say, “Hey Siri” when connected to power and it will answer you.

This means your iPhone is always listening. How else could it respond instantly?

We’re in a new world in which privacy is scarcer than we know. Most people seem not to care.

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I have a partial solution to this if you don’t approve of your smart TVs tactics. Not only will your TV not overhear you,  you’ll save money too.

Most of Samsung’s “smart” features aren’t very helpful if your service comes through a cable or satellite TV box. They produce the video signal. Your TV simply converts it into images on the screen.

What happens in many (and maybe most) cases is that we buy a bunch of smart-tuner features and then never use them. That’s pointless.

What you can do is buy a “monitor” instead of a TV. I don’t mean a computer monitor. You’ll find big-screen monitors in the TV department at Best Buy (BBY) and other retailers.

This kind of monitor is essentially a TV screen without a tuner. It accepts video signals from your cable/satellite box, your video game consoles, or other devices like Roku or Apple TV. That’s all.

The price difference between a Smart TV and a “dumb” monitor of the same size and image quality can be $500 or more. I know because I recently bought a 65″ monitor for my home. It works great – and it doesn’t listen to me.

See, safeguarding your privacy doesn’t have to be expensive. It can actually leave more money in your pocket.

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Does your TV hear too much? Ready to cut the cord on cable? Tell us what you think. You can leave a comment on our website or send me an e-mail.

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Hints of resolution in the Greek debt standoff helped markets gain ground today. Here are some of today’s headlines…

•  The day started with upbeat news from China. The nation’s consumer price index rose only 0.8% over the last year. This means that the People’s Bank of China might inject economic stimulus and drive stocks higher.

•  Also in China, U.S. tech giant Qualcomm (QCOM) reached a deal with the government to settle violations of Chinese antimonopoly law.

•  QCOM will pay a $975 million fine. Will they use Monopoly money?

•  Apple (AAPL) rose to a new all-time high above $122 today.

•  Fun fact: At $120.18, Apple became the first public company ever to reach a $700 billion market cap.

•  Not to be outdone by Apple’s Swiss Franc bond offering, Microsoft (MSFT) took advantage of low rates to sell $10.75 billion in long-term bonds Monday.

•  Microsoft has plenty of offshore cash, but borrowing in the U.S. costs less than the tax bill to bring home foreign money.

•  Dean Foods (DF) posted its first quarterly profit in more than a year, but a discouraging outlook pushed shares in the dairy producer down 11.9%.

•  Coca-Cola (KO) had more fizz, with shares climbing 2.8% after its quarterly report showed better than expected results.

Good Luck and Happy Investing,

Brad Hoppmann

Publisher

Uncommon Wisdom Daily

Your thoughts on “Your Smart TV May Be Spying on You”

  1. I am so turned off by the invasion of my privacy, I don’t do facebook, twitter, or even cell phones I don’t want to be so connected that I loose my independence , however I recognise that Hydro and gas reads the meters remotely, no options, we still use land line, I would love to get rid of cable but I am not sure about the alternatives to allow us to have just the limited access we want and I have 4 samsung tvs at home but all of them older than 2years. I would like to be able to watch some tv without the TV watching me (or the Government for that matter) why don,t people realize what they are loosing Americans buy guns to protect their personal freedoms then give it away openly on celll phones and social networks, internet, have you all gone mad? I woiuld like to pull the plug on all of it and start living in reality with just the news channels, unfiltered and ditect as it was 20 years ago. What a life I am glad I am over 75 and wont have to care too much

  2. Thank you for the alternative options tips…we used to call the tv the.boob tube…now the tvs are smarter than we are….guess it is time for a new name…how ’bout ‘the all seeing screen’?

  3. No my TV can not watch or listen to me, It has no microphone or camera! My Samsun Galaxcy S4 is another matter. It does have a microphone and a camera and it is always turned on, in spite of beening turned “off”!

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