Recent intelligence community disclosures say Yes.
So far, it’s not Big Brother listening to your every word, but someone may be . . . if you have a Smart TV or other internet-connected devices
A year ago, Samsung confirmed that their Smart TVs are indeed listening in on everything you say and do and is warning customers to avoid discussing personal topics in front of their Smart TV. The Week reported in February 2015:
Samsung has confirmed that its “smart TV” sets are listening to customers’ every word, and the company is warning customers not to speak about personal information while near the TV sets.
The company revealed that the voice activation feature on its smart TVs will capture all nearby conversations. The TV sets can share the information, including sensitive data, with Samsung as well as third-party services.
Samsung issued a statement about the ability of consumers to control the voice activation that enables the recording and storage of all voice communication in the range of the Smart TV.
The Week continued:
Samsung has now issued a new statement clarifying how the voice activation feature works. “If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature, voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search,” Samsung said in a statement. “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.”
The company added that it does not retain or sell the voice data, but it didn’t name the third party that translates users’ speech.
Update, Feb. 10: Samsung has updated its policy and named the third party in question, Nuance Communications, Inc.
Consumer Reports had a helpful article about how to turn off these “snooping” features on your Smart TV (or phone).
If that were all there were to the issue, it could be filed away in the memory bank.
But, as the Guardian reports this past week, Smart TVs and similar internet-linked devices are a prime target of government snoops, The internet of things: how your TV, car and toys could spy on you:
Can your smart TV spy on you? Absolutely, says the US director of national intelligence. The ever-widening array of “smart” web-enabled devices pundits have dubbed the internet of things [IoT] is a welcome gift to intelligence officials and law enforcement, according to director James Clapper.
“In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials,” Clapper told the Senate in public testimony on Tuesday.
As a category, the internet of things is useful to eavesdroppers both official and unofficial for a variety of reasons, the main one being the leakiness of the data. “[O]ne helpful feature for surveillance is that private sector IoT generally blabs a lot, routinely into some server, somewhere,” said Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “That data blabbing can be insecure in the air, or obtained from storage.”
Computerworld further reports, Government may tap into your IoT gadgets and use your smart devices to spy on you:
A Harvard report no sooner debunked the FBI’s “Going Dark” argument than the U.S. intelligence chief admitted the government might use your “smart” internet-connected devices to spy on you.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified (pdf):
“Smart” devices incorporated into the electric grid, vehicles—including autonomous vehicles—and household appliances are improving efficiency, energy conservation, and convenience. However, security industry analysts have demonstrated that many of these new systems can threaten data privacy, data integrity, or continuity of services. In the future, intelligence services might use the IoT for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.
Clapper’s prepared testimony about spying via IoT were included in the “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community” report (pdf) delivered to the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 9. The Internet of Things was the first topic mentioned under “cyber and technology,” followed by artificial intelligence, although the report notes that the order of topics doesn’t necessarily mean the intelligence community views the topic as the most important.
Yes, be very afraid.