Samsung reminds us why smart TVs can be awful

— 6:00 AM on February 11, 2015

I would not want to work in Samsung's PR department right now. Earlier this week, Parker Higgins posted a troubling comparison highlighting parallels between George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and the privacy policy for Samsung's smart TVs:

The story was all over tech sites, and it's not quite the spying scandal implied by some of the clickbait headlines. Samsung clarified to TechCrunch that data is only collected when users activate voice recognition, which requires clicking an on-screen icon or holding down a button on the remote. "Should consumers enable the voice recognition capability," Samsung said, "the voice data consists of TV commands, or search sentences, only." The company added, "Users can easily recognize if the voice recognition feature is activated because a microphone icon appears on the screen."

So, no, Samsung's smart TVs aren't eavesdropping on their owners' conversations.

But they might be inserting ads into movies and other content. Gigaom has the scoop on several reports of Pepsi commercials mysteriously hijacking streams from Plex and at least one other app on some Samsung smart TVs. The site speculates that this apparent "feature" was enabled by accident, and that it's not meant to pollute third-party content. It's hard to imagine what else the insertion scheme could be for, though.

Samsung isn't the only TV maker doing questionable things. LG was caught spying on users' viewing habits back in 2013. Now, it reportedly disables smart TV functionality if owners don't agree to share search and viewing data with third parties. I can't help but wonder what other features may soon be tied to invasive or otherwise unseemly monetization schemes. At least when Google harvests my data, it provides awesome free services in return. If smart TVs are headed down the same road, maybe they should be free, too.

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