Just this week a slew of the world’s news networks reported that Samsung, a giant in the home-tech world, has been listening to its customers – and not in a response-to-a-filed-complaint sort of way.
The company recently reported that its SmartTVs – meaning the televisions equipped to connect to the Internet for the use of applications like Netflix and recognize voice commands – has been not only acknowledging the vocal prompts, but has also been recording them and sending them to a third party.
Cue the tired Orwellian comparisons.
What is both mind-boggling and frustrating is that the report came from Samsung, not as an admittance of guilt and shame, but as a warning. The company warned it’s customers not to discuss vital and important information as the information would be submitted to another company, Nuance, who then turns the voice to text. According to CNN, Samsung claims that the information is deleted immediately, but this begs the question – why the hell is the information downloaded and sent in the first place?
Sure, maybe many of us don’t have anything to hide. Maybe Samsung and Nuance are gathering incredibly boring conversations from a couple struggling over what to make for dinner, or maybe they know what sort of porn you’re into judging from how you taunt the nude figures on the television.
But what this comes down to is a matter of principle. What this comes down to is the fact that we’re buying a slew of technology that is downloading and caching our every move and spoken word.
So, think about it for a few minutes. Think about what you say in front of your television; think about what you say to a friend or family member over the phone. Maybe as you read these words the horror is beginning to dawn on you that everything you’ve said and shared is never truly gone or forgotten.
Our governments have it and now many of the companies we pay during an unbeatable Black Friday sale have them, too.
Am I scared about what these companies and what our governments will do with this information? No, but I pity them for the fact that they may have records of hundreds of phone calls with my friends as we talk about Star Wars lore and action figures. That’s just a waste of digital space. That’s a damn shame.
But what about the hackers?
Last year Home Depot, JP Morgan and Sony were tapped into by crafty computer folk and all of their dirty laundry was hung out to dry. I’m not scared of the companies; I’m scared of the anarchists who have found a key to the back door.
You should be too. You should be mad, scared and frustrated not only at the hackers, but at the companies like Samsung who don’t try to rectify the problem, who simply have the gall to tell us, “Oh yeah, by the way, with each of our televisions comes a man who stands outside of your window and watches you sleep. Sorry.”
I’m not so much an activist as I am a cynic and pessimist who believes humans, at their core, are eternal and forgetful hypocrites.
There’s a company out there that has told us the truth and doesn’t apologize. Instead they just carry on doing exactly what they want to do and many of us continue to support them. And they aren’t the only ones doing it. It’s worth mentioning that the only reason this issue came to light is because a journalist at the Daily Beast stumbled upon it. Go figure.
So, where do we go from here? To be honest, I don’t know. I’m just acting as the messenger, the spark to light the flame that will hopefully burn the whole house down. I refuse to believe that we’re all OK with this. I refuse to believe that we’ll continue to take a step into the pages helmed by George Orwell.
The voice command features on the TVs can be disabled, which means Samsung, Nuance, and whoever the heck else, can’t listen. With that said, how do we know that’s the truth?