Watching TV wasn’t always a shared experience. In the past, you watched your favorite programs while your TV sat there passively like the inanimate object it was always meant to be. Now, however, we know that while you’re watching TV, there is a good chance your TV is also watching you: Observing, recording and sharing information about your household, habits and conversations with unspecified parties.
Not content to stop there, Samsung has added a location tracking app to its TVs that will allow you – and them – to keep track of other people’s real-time locations. They make it easy for you to expose your friends and family to their tracking: Simply type in the person’s phone number, and they will receive a text they can use to add themselves to your group. Perhaps your mom is happy for you to see what route she’s taking to get to your house, but it’s important to note that once someone is added, everyone else in the group can also see where they are in real time using any type of screen equipped with the Glympse app.
If this makes you a bit uneasy, join the club. While Samsung might have done this with the best of intentions, there are so many ways that this can backfire. Perhaps for some reason you really do trust Samsung to only share your real-time movements with the people you authorize, but once you get where you’re going and turn your device off, what happens to the data they collected?
While the firm said that it does not sell the information and operates within privacy laws, it wasn’t as forthcoming about whether it keeps the data. Just because Samsung might not use the data for untoward purposes, however, does not mean that hackers can’t and won’t try to gain access to this treasure trove of sensitive information.
Moreover, it was recently revealed by Wikileaks that the CIA’s Embedded Devices Branch can make Samsung smart TVs appear to be off while operating them as a bug that records the conversations taking place in the room and sends them to CIA servers.
Another troubling aspect of this story is the fact that a Samsung exec stated that the TV is a hub for family communications. Given the disturbing fact that American adults watch an average of five hours and four minutes of TV per day, this might be a convenient way to reach them, but is it really so hard to pick up the phone and call someone to find out what time they are coming over? Now no one needs to talk to one another anymore. They just drive home and join the rest of the family on the sofa in front of the TV, and no one has to interact with each other. Are we sure this is really improving family communications?
Samsung also boasts that this can help you keep track of your pizza delivery guy so you don’t have to burn any extra calories getting up and looking out the window. What does it say about our society that this is something we value?