Every internet-connected device is a potential privacy risk | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

Samsung has caused controversy with the revelation its voice-recognition system enables internet TVs to collect sounds and send them to a third party, including any sensitive information you might happen to talk about in front of the box.

While this warning is alarming for the privacy-conscious, it's a microcosm of a much larger threat that many in the consumer security business have been warning against  and which you can expect to hear more often.

Devices that require personal input and the collection of personal data to function — be it via voice, camera, location or otherwise — have been a part of our lives for years, and are only increasing.

Here is a list of some of the household and personal items snooping on you:

Smartphones

A small box that can collect location data, detect motion, store audio and video plus keeps track of your online activities, your phone provides a way for most of your apps and services to "listen in" on you in one way or another, not to mention a microphone which researchers have manipulated to spy .


You can easily control when a Samsung Smart will and will not collect voice data, the company says.

Apple's Siri, for example, functions almost identically to Samsung's voice recognition.

These services rely on a dedicated voice-recognition service somewhere in the cloud to take your complex requests and queries, translate them into understandable text, and send them back to your phone or TV.

While they may not be actively listening 24 hours a day, at the very least they are monitoring the microphone's feed in expectation of a command.

Video game consoles

Microsoft's Xbox One and its attached Kinect sensor works the same way, but adds video to the mix as well. Kinect keeps track of the people in a room so it can detect who's present and load their preferences accordingly, or zoom and pan the camera to make sure everybody is in frame during a Skype call.

Microsoft faced backlash in 2013 for its zealous attitude toward collecting data from Kinect (which eventually forced it to dial back its plans) and, coincidentally in the same year, LG landed in some strife for a voice-activated TV that was found to send voice recordings online.


The Smarter Wi-Fi Coffee Machine. It knows when you wake up or when you're likely to get home so it can greet you with sweet caffeine. Photo: Smarter

Coffee machines and airconditioners

A device that "listens" before using the internet to provide us with a service is not a new idea. The trigger for controversy, it seems, is the revelation that a device could do that without us explicitly telling it to. Yet this is the cornerstone of many devices and services we use every day (including web browsers, social media, smart public transport cards, Google Now etc) and will continue to be so as we move towards the all-connected "internet of things". 

A connected coffee-maker, for example, collates data about when you're home so it knows when to make coffee. Ditto for connected airconditioners. Both devices are soon to be (or already are) on the market, and necessarily "listen in" on your life and activities, collecting data on you so they can do their job. LG already has an voice-command airconditioner that literally "listens in", cooling the room if you yell out that it's too hot.


Your phone provides data on your movements, purchases, preferences, searches, and communications to countless apps and services. Photo: Reuters

Is this form of data collection really so scary considering the reams of information we already gladly hand over to the companies that provide our email, maps or ride-share services? Are we really concerned about Samsung's microphones in our house and fine with the microphone, GPS and camera we take around in our pocket literally every day?

A common piece of advice when it comes to the internet is "if you don't want the whole world to hear about it, don't say it online". Increasingly, we not only have to apply this test to emails and facebook messages but to the data we allow our appliances and devices to collect as well. If it's connected to the internet, assume this data is being transmitted online.

Some privacy-minded folks advocate active avoidance, keeping the use of these devices to a minimum, disabling settings or placing a piece of sticky tape over your device's data-collecting apparatus.

Others take pride in their old-school Nokia phones, dumb TVs and ability to "stay off the grid".

But most of us give up information about ourselves constantly because it gives us access to incredible conveniences and technology, and we can't have our cake and eat it too.

Yes, companies like Samsung and Apple and Microsoft must be transparent about what they do with our data, and to whom they give it. But if the last year or so of data breaches, wide-scale hacks and government snooping has taught us anything, it's that no data stored or transmitted online is safe from prying eyes.

In the end we have no absolute control over where our data goes.

The best we can do is be informed about what data our devices are collecting, and if you really don't want something transmitted online, take Samsung's advice and don't say it where an internet-connected TV can hear you.



Via Dr. Dea Conrad-Curry, Gust MEES, Oksana Borukh, Paulo Félix