Samsung hasn’t had a good year. First, there was the infamous Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones, which literally burst into flames every chance it got. Now, Samsung is in the news again because of Project Weeping Angel.
Project Weeping Angel is part of the disturbing Wikileaks 8000+ pages of documents detailing the CIA’s efforts to spy on American citizens. Specifically, it shows evidence that the CIA can use smart TV’s and phones to spy on us in our own homes.
Part of Project Weeping Angel showed that the CIA can hack into cars remotely. But they can also get into your own TV and use it to spy on you. According to Wikileaks, “Weeping Angel places the target TV in a “Fake-Off” mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on… In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.”
According to these documents, the smart TV’s that were being used as recording devices were Samsung brand. When Samsung released these smart TV’s in early 2015, there was concern about privacy. The fine print in the terms of service (you know, that thing almost no one bothers to read) clearly states that the smart TV may “capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. 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 through your use of Voice Recognition.”
That means that whatever you’re saying when you’re in the same room with your smart TV is being recorded. When you use voice recognition, your voice is being sent to a third party. Here’s how it works: you tell the TV something in a voice command, for instance, “Where can I find reruns of Seinfeld?” According to a Samsung spokeswoman, the TV records your voice and sends the audio data to a third-party server when you do a voice command search. The server searches for the content you’re looking for and sends the results your way through your TV.
But what if you don’t want to be listened in on? Well, Samsung says that you can disable custom voice commands and stick to pre-defined voice commands. But you’re still not in the free and clear, “While Samsung will not collect your spoken word, Samsung may still collect associated texts and other usage data so that we can evaluate the performance of the feature and improve it.”
You can also switch off the voice recognition data altogether, but then you might not be able to use all of the voice recognition features. Based on how this smart TV works, it looks like the CIA can simply swap in their own covert server in place of the third-party server Samsung uses. Then they can shunt your information their way without anyone noticing.