Blog: Is your tech spying on you ?
2nd March 2015
Blog: Is your tech spying on you ?
As this is the third blog article we're written relating to privacy and protecting your data, you might wonder if we're getting a bit obsessed or paranoid. Hopefully we're not - as we sell security products to help safeguard your data, writing on topics relating to your 'attack surface' is hopefully something you care about and the evolution of privacy is something that we think history will find fascinating.
Last week's "shock" story was that Samsung are warning users that their smart TVs are continuously listening into your conversations and broadcast to 3rd parties. Actually, this wasn't, as has been implied an alert to some new hack or vulnerability but just the standard disclaimer within Samsung's own terms & conditions, referring to the possibility:
“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party,” the policy reads.
Smart TVs, of which Samsung is the highest volume supplier, can have voice control. It's actually the first thing I turned off, though mostly because it was annoying due to false activation.
If you're familar with Star Trek (TNG) you'll know that Captain Picard (the best Captain) always has to say "Computer!" before addressing the ship's computer with a voice command. Smart TV's work the same way. Voice control can only work by continuously listening to the room and reacting when someone says one of the key control words ("TV on", "Channel Up" etc.).
Mobile phones also provide voice commands - Apple's Siri, Samsung's S-Voice and Microsoft's Cortana. Normally, one has to engage these assistants with some physical activation before they will accept your commands but 'always on' listening, as with the Samsung TVs will soon be the norm, as it's supposedly less bother.
There is a difference between local processing of voice data and offloading your voice processing to the cloud. If all of your voice is sent onto the cloud for processing then there's even more scope for host or 3rd party interception or hacking - one would hope that all such data is suitably encrypted to at least prevent low level simple hacking.
As voice control evolves, it's not just TVs and phones we need to worry about. Browsers such as Google's Chrome will support always-listening voice control, and to save any physical interaction, it has to be permanently listening to you in your home or office (or the street) in order to detect trigger keywords. Access to your real-time conversations is therefore available to any malware, permitted app or less than benevolent government which wants to spy on you.
We're used to the idea that Google knows everything you've searched for, and probably every web site you've visited (it was for 'research', honest!) but go back a few years and we might have considered that to be invasive. These things ratchet up slowly enough that we don't appreciate the gentle ebbing away of our privacy. Tim Cook (CEO, Apple) recently suggested that 'privacy is a human right' - that's a refreshing sentiment at a time when it's easy to feel that every big tech company sees your data and metadata as a tradeble or valuable commodity.
Even if you don't care about everyone knowing what you're discussing - your every conversation, serious, silly, sensitive or trivial, there's surely something quite creepy about being 'always on mic'.
Fortunately though, you needn't worry because if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.
- First Published: 13/01/2015
- Last Updated: 08/04/2015
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