Product Review: Samsung Smart TV


Gabriel Muniz – Special to the Southern News 

Smart TV’s, like the many “smart” devices that operate interactively and autonomously, are the epitome of user friendliness.  A TV with voice-activated control, 3-D viewing, and countless applications, is, without question, impressive.  But like the proverbial Frankenstein that outsmarts its creator, Smart TV’s have become too smart for their own good.  Ironically, much to the detriment of budding TV enthusiasts, TV’s are now doing the watching.

Samsung has recently made headlines in the mainstream news media for the privacy concerns its Smart TV’s have raised.  From PC Magazine to ABC News, the warning that was mainly broadcast – raising awareness about an issue long overdue – went something to the effect of: watch what you say around your Smart TV.

Surprisingly, Samsung’s Smart TV privacy policy, as reported by the Daily Beast, includes the following warning: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the date captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of voice recognition.”

While this breach in privacy has been reported by some as being nothing more than a third party getting access to encrypted data, data that is largely TV-oriented, that is, commands and such that enhance service, this revelation of Smart TV eavesdropping, a problem with many implications in a world that is increasingly interconnected, needs to be understood in light of a larger trend that is afoot: the many tech devices, in and out of the home, portable and stationary, that come with the capability to listen and record – “spy,” given its involuntary nature – and with an undeniable vulnerability to hacking.

Whether the Xbox One, Motorola X, navigation systems, computer webcams, social media updates, tweets, and posts – interactivity with web services, innocent fun in some respects, has come with a substantial price: one’s privacy and safety. E-book readers are a case in point.

It was reported in 2012 that E-readers were “reading readers.”  What passages readers highlighted, how long it took to complete a book, where one stopped reading – these were among the behaviors tracked by the E-readers.  That these E-readers can have their “books” digitally erased presents potential privacy and hacking problems that cannot be ignored.

It’s the up-and-coming tech devices that present even greater privacy and hacking concerns, even outpacing those raised by smart TV’s.  The Amazon echo, an artificially intelligent device whose ratings and comments have been disabled on both Youtube and Amazon (a phenomenon itself raising concerns), is, as its largely online promotion states, “designed around your voice.”  And, as its promotions tout, “connected to the cloud…its always getting smarter.”

The Jibo, “the world’s first family robot,” set to be released at the end of this year, is perhaps the greatest spy device.  Supporting the “human experience,” the Jibo is more than an appliance to be tampered with; it is a companion with which to share a relationship.

Its visionary creator, Dr. Cynthia Breazeal, a pioneer in the social robotics field, is pleased to announce its near-human capabilities.  The many verbs describing what the device can do, as noted on the device’s website – see, hear, learn, help, speak, relate – highlight the many actions such devices are capable of now and will be to carry out in the near future.

As a Google engineering director, Scott Huffman has likely seen his fair of the impossible-turned-possible. His vision of a Google search box receding into obscurity with wearable devices taking its place is no exaggeration.  His more grand – and, indeed, ominous – vision of a future with microphones in the ceiling and microchips in humans’ heads – is not either.  While the former is practically here, the latter is on the horizon.

All of these aforementioned tech examples draw attention to a central point, namely, the ubiquitous nature of technology that, increasingly personalized, is intrusive to the point of fundamentally reshaping how humans live and behave.

It isn’t a stretch to say that Smart TV’s are nearly identical to the Big brother-like telescreens straight out of an Orwellian nightmare.   Where are one’s thoughts to be stored when they are recorded everywhere, albeit, sometimes voluntarily, at other times, involuntarily?

Like the old-fashioned TV’s representative of a bygone era, it is definitely time for another relic of times that seem so long past to resurface: good-old fashioned pen and paper.

Photo Credit: Pierre Lecourt

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