Friday, February 20, 2015

So Who Is Watching and Listening To You?

We live in a world of surveillance, moving ever closer to Orwell’s 1984. We are surrounded by CCTV cameras on buildings, streets and inside shops, some would suggest that our internet messages and activity is also being monitored under the guise of national interest and data gathering by software providers on our every click is commonplace. This new business of ‘big data’ appears to be morphing without control and is often hidden deep within the small print that we don’t read.
Last year we reported on Adobe’s collecting of eBook reading information through their service, which ironically was set up to protect copyright and the interests of their clients - the publisher, but apparently not their other clients - the consumer. LG was also discovered to be collecting details via some of their TVs on their owners' viewing habits and on what devices were connected to their TVs and was sending this back to the manufacturer, even if the users have activated a privacy setting.
Have smart devices now become too smart? Does the technology allow others to look in and to gather data and who and how can we control what we often can’t see and have not authorised?
The latest ‘data gathering news’ is about users Samsung Smart TV users who use voice activation to control their Samsung Smart TV. It is now claimed that the TV doesn’t just ‘listen’ to commands but to everything that is said and may share what they hears with Samsung or third parties, which is believed to be Nuance, the voice recognition specialist. It’s like having a ‘Gogglebox’, or worse still Orwell’s vision in every home. The users are unaware they are being monitored and although this story broke via a story in online news magazine the Daily Beast it questions how big this iceberg may be?
The Samsung policy states that the TV set will be listening to people in the same room to try to spot when commands or queries are issued via the remote. It states: ‘If your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.’
However, like Adobe, Skype and Viper before them, Samsung then send data to third parties without any encryption!
Samsung in its defence state ‘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.’
They also go on to state that, ‘Smart-TV owners would always know if voice activation was turned on because a microphone icon would be visible on the screen.’
Does this same logic apply to other voice recognition services which are increasingly being deployed on devices?
But it is not just about gathering data but also about pushing unwanted data onto the consumer. Recently Lenovo was caught out installing adware onto new consumer computers on initial activation of the PC. The Superfish adware which injects third-party ads on Google searches and websites without the user’s permission has subsequently been removed.
Data gathering is done for a number of purposes; to help hone and target product and services to an individual, to sell behaviour and interest information to third parties and to eavesdrop on individuals. The problem is that the technology can often be the same and the lines between moral and not can often blur.

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