Samsung Television Spies on Viewers

Earlier this week, we learned that Samsung televisions are eavesdropping on their owners. If you have one of their Internet-connected smart TVs, you can turn on a voice command feature that saves you the trouble of finding the remote, pushing buttons and scrolling through menus. But making that feature work requires the television to listen to everything you say. And what you say isn’t just processed by the television; it may be forwarded over the Internet for remote processing. It’s literally Orwellian.

This discovery surprised people, but it shouldn’t have. The things around us are increasingly computerized, and increasingly connected to the Internet. And most of them are listening.

Our smartphones and computers, of course, listen to us when we’re making audio and video calls. But the microphones are always there, and there are ways a hacker, government, or clever company can turn those microphones on without our knowledge. Sometimes we turn them on ourselves. If we have an iPhone, the voice-processing system Siri listens to us, but only when we push the iPhone’s button. Like Samsung, iPhones with the “Hey Siri” feature enabled listen all the time. So do Android devices with the “OK Google” feature enabled, and so does an Amazon voice-activated system called Echo. Facebook has the ability to turn your smartphone’s microphone on when you’re using the app.

Even if you don’t speak, our computers are paying attention. Gmail “listens” to everything you write, and shows you advertising based on it. It might feel as if you’re never alone. Facebook does the same with everything you write on that platform, and even listens to the things you type but don’t post. Skype doesn’t listen—we think—but as Der Spiegel notes, data from the service “has been accessible to the NSA’s snoops” since 2011.

So the NSA certainly listens. It listens directly, and it listens to all these companies listening to you. So do other countries like Russia and China, which we really don’t want listening so closely to their citizens.

It’s not just the devices that listen; most of this data is transmitted over the Internet. Samsung sends it to what was referred to as a “third party” in its policy statement. It later revealed that third party to be a company you’ve never heard of—Nuance—that turns the voice into text for it. Samsung promises that the data is erased immediately. Most of the other companies that are listening promise no such thing and, in fact, save your data for a long time. Governments, of course, save it, too.

This data is a treasure trove for criminals, as we are learning again and again as tens and hundreds of millions of customer records are repeatedly stolen. Last week, it was reported that hackers had accessed the personal records of some 80 million Anthem Health customers and others. Last year, it was Home Depot, JP Morgan, Sony and many others. Do we think Nuance’s security is better than any of these companies? I sure don’t.

At some level, we’re consenting to all this listening. A single sentence in Samsung’s 1,500-word privacy policy, the one most of us don’t read, stated: “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.” Other services could easily come with a similar warning: Be aware that your e-mail provider knows what you’re saying to your colleagues and friends and be aware that your cell phone knows where you sleep and whom you’re sleeping with—assuming that you both have smartphones, that is.

The Internet of Things is full of listeners. Newer cars contain computers that record speed, steering wheel position, pedal pressure, even tire pressure—and insurance companies want to listen. And, of course, your cell phone records your precise location at all times you have it on—and possibly even when you turn it off. If you have a smart thermostat, it records your house’s temperature, humidity, ambient light and any nearby movement. Any fitness tracker you’re wearing records your movements and some vital signs; so do many computerized medical devices. Add security cameras and recorders, drones and other surveillance airplanes, and we’re being watched, tracked, measured and listened to almost all the time.

It’s the age of ubiquitous surveillance, fueled by both Internet companies and governments. And because it’s largely happening in the background, we’re not really aware of it.

This has to change. We need to regulate the listening: both what is being collected and how it’s being used. But that won’t happen until we know the full extent of surveillance: who’s listening and what they’re doing with it. Samsung buried its listening details in its privacy policy—they have since amended it to be clearer—and we’re only having this discussion because a Daily Beast reporter stumbled upon it. We need more explicit conversation about the value of being able to speak freely in our living rooms without our televisions listening, or having e-mail conversations without Google or the government listening. Privacy is a prerequisite for free expression, and losing that would be an enormous blow to our society.

This essay previously appeared on

ETA (2/16): A German translation by Damian Weber.

Posted on February 13, 2015 at 7:01 AM49 Comments


YouKnowWhatIMean February 13, 2015 7:23 AM

Thank you, Bruce. You have said everything I have been thinking but couldn’t get it properly put into words.

ATN February 13, 2015 7:24 AM

There is a spell checker when I type a message on this comment box.
Is the words I am writing going to a third party, with detail about me?

V February 13, 2015 7:39 AM

Spell checking is up to your browser, not Bruce’s website. With many (most?) browsers the dictionary is kept on your machine.

Flo February 13, 2015 7:44 AM

I simply blocked on my firewall, as the TV appears to be talking to that netblock on every action I take with my remote. I don’t have the “listening tv”, but it’s definitely singing on the internet.

A February 13, 2015 7:47 AM

Excellent piece. Even though these systems were built by private enterprise we (as users) bear some responsibility. We fund and perpetuate these unjust power systems. If we truly oppose them, we must instead choose and support options that give users more control. Namely, free and open source software.

Shadow Firebird February 13, 2015 7:51 AM

Some of these questions we have partial answers for.

For example, I should be able to get timely access to any CCTV footage, location data, etc, that has been gathered that concerns me — in the same way I can make a FOI request of documents.

The underlying problem appears to be that those who have the power have no interest in being just, fair or equitable — same as always.

bob February 13, 2015 8:32 AM

@V, @ATN There is no reason the website couldn’t provide a spell checker and that could work in the way Bruce described. Inversely, it’s entirely feasible that your existing browser or OS based spell-checker is sending everything to a remote service before sending guesses back in the same way you send everything you type to Google when it tries to guess your search-term before you finish.

CallMeLateForSupper February 13, 2015 9:05 AM

My vintage 1982 Trinitron (CRT!) tele has been coughing up blood for several years, and I am only now very reluctantly taking steps to identify a suitable replacement for that venerable old set. So thank-you, Samsung, for helping me in this unpleasant task; the replacement won’t be Samsung. And most assuredly it will not be “smart”.

Let us bow our heads and remember the LG “smart” tv’s that in 2013 were caught phoning home, reporting channels viewed and times of viewing and, more alarming, sniffing the local network (read: YOUR computer(s)) and reporting the titles of all videos it found there.

paul February 13, 2015 9:05 AM

So are there ways to process this kind of information remotely without making a total mess of things, like some kind of homomorphically encrypted onion route of things? Or will there always be deanonymization techniques, in which case the remedies will have to be cultural and political?

JimFive February 13, 2015 9:20 AM

@Shadow firebird
I disagree. No one should be able to access CCTV footage or other data after the fact without a warrant or subpoena, including the accumulator/creator of the data (after the fact, in this case means, beyond it’s immediate normal use, Samsung’s recording’s immediate use to to be processed for voice control, after that it should be gone). One of the concerns about police body cams is the ability to misuse the footage in any number of ways (trolling for crimes, tracking movements, etc). The other part of that is that this information should not be kept at all beyond its immediate use (to the subject). For example, Samsung’s recordings should be immediately deleted after the voice recognition system has processed the request.

ExistBI February 13, 2015 9:32 AM

Very interesting read. Thank you for the post, I am not sure how to feel about this new information, in some ways its a good thing but it does mean we have no privacy anymore.

Thunderbird February 13, 2015 9:33 AM

[…] For example, Samsung’s recordings should be immediately deleted after the voice recognition system has processed the request.

It wasn’t clear to me whether you meant that there should be some legal requirement to make information private or if you meant that businesses and other actors should recognize some moral or ethical restriction to that effect. If it was the latter, I just want to mention that no organization seems to regard itself as bound by ethical or moral restrictions when there’s a buck to be made. And it would be pretty hard to define laws that could control such behavior without “interesting” effects that would be hard to predict.

Not to say that we shouldn’t think about it, but an easier solution in this case is probably the technical/economic one of not buying “smart” appliances (a boycott of manufacturers wouldn’t work because see point one above).

cbb February 13, 2015 9:34 AM

But making that feature work requires the television to listen to everything you say.

Err, only, this isn’t true. The voice command functionality requires you to press the voice command button on the ‘smart’ remote control. The same remote that houses the listening microphone.
This is no different to Siri, Cortana or ‘Hello Google’…

blaughw February 13, 2015 10:06 AM


You might look into a digital signage display, typically they don’t have a tuner or anything built in. They’re more just a monitor, and it should be just about as ‘dumb’ as you can get.

Jeff February 13, 2015 10:15 AM

@Jake Weisz — Bruce never said he doesn’t know Nuance, only the “you” never have. i doubt he was aiming that at you in particular, but the readers at — who mostly probably haven’t heard of Nuance.

Lalala February 13, 2015 10:24 AM

@supper my in fact quite dumb smart tv has no rj45 connected –> problem solved for me!

I was thinking to add a WAP to it, without Internet connection to profit of some of its smatter features, but so far dumb is smart enough for me.

ac February 13, 2015 11:01 AM

I honestly don’t know if this is THAT big of a deal, here’s why: the television requires you to take action to hook it to the Internet, and the television is adequately functional for most users without any network access. How many Smart TVs are even hooked to the Internet? I’d imagine quite a lot are bought simply because that’s what’s available, not because anyone actually wants their TV on the Internet. And that’s fine–because they’re not on the Internet until you put them there.

On the other hand, phones (cell and land lines) don’t function to anyone’s satisfaction without network access, and they’re far more widely distributed, so the capacity for corporate or government spying/privacy invasion is IMO far greater than these TVs.

If these TVs came equipped to auto-connect to 4G networks, THAT would be Orwellian. Big Brother isn’t really Big Brother if it requires an opt-in first. This seems more like a corporation so desperate to differentiate their product in a saturated market with thin margins, that they just throw random stuff into their product without much planning at all, let alone considering security and privacy. Not great news, of course, not by any stretch, but honestly not that unusual.

Rufo Guerreschi February 13, 2015 11:21 AM

we must have laws forbidding tjlhe sales of device without a physical switch for mic, camera and power.

Without one, even if we managed to arrive at meaningfully private devices, they woukd be useless if you had to get out ij the garden to use them.

If one doesn’t come soon, we may be better quite on trying to make safe supplementart devices available to all people, and start working on reinventing democracy based on the Transparent Society paradigm (James Brin)

albert February 13, 2015 12:20 PM

Is it really necessary to have our TVs hooked up to the internet? Are we that lazy that we can’t punch a button to change channels? Or type a phone number, or find a restaurant on our smart phones? Do you think ‘they’ don’t keep records of all that porn you watch on PPV?
“Any device connected to the internet will be abused, in every way possible, as often as possible, forever and ever.” – Murphys grandson*.
Folks keep saying we live in the Information Age. Wonder what the next ‘Age’ will be. There is no aspect of society, and by extension, technology that hasn’t been monetized. Information is a valuable commodity, and the more personal it is, the more valuable. So I can monitor my smart refrigerator from Aruba, and see the temperatures, electricity usage, how many times, and when my kids opened the doors (21 times between 9PM and 4 AM on a Saturday). It will calculate how long it takes to chill a case a beer, and keep an historical database of all this, and of course, send it all back to the manufacturer. Now let’s consider commodes….
Ain’t science wonderful?
I gotta go..

  • I left out the ‘amen’. Murphys progeny are all cynical atheists now.

Andrew Wallace February 13, 2015 12:21 PM

NSA are only listening for terror plots and don’t care about your conversations not even your criminal designs are of interest to them.

I’m happy and comfortable with the measures that are helping to keep our nation safe and secure from those who wish to disrupt our society.

Everything needs to be open and connected. It is what we expect our Government to do and is what we pay them to do.


Winston February 13, 2015 12:53 PM

Microsoft’s Kinect does this as well. My son wants to connect his xbox and play in the family room. I explained the problem with it sending video and audio of everything in the room back to Microsoft and he didn’t care and considering that a lot of his friends have a similar setup apparently they didn’t care either. For my part I told him it can stay in his room but no way am I going to let him bug the rest of the family.

I’m (re)learning Wireshark so my next project is to try and see just what Kinect (and maybe Siri too) is sending out from the home network.

vas pup February 13, 2015 12:54 PM

I assume that if any manufacturer was thinking about security on the design step, then they will do the following:
on any electronic device with built in camera and microphone, they will provide separate kill switch which will by hardware disconnect those devise out of the battery on USER, not mob/gov/hacker desire those devices giving USER 100% control of them. The manufacturer will definitely do that for commercial advantage, BUT I guess GOV/FCC will prevent such feature because it will give control you/user, not them/snoopers.

Sasparilla February 13, 2015 1:16 PM


Just to add to your TV choice knowledge, Samsung also had their Smart TV’s start inserting ads directly into video people were playing from a local source (that’s the re-load and shoot the other foot strategy):

Definitely wouldn’t want one (Samsung) either (as others have pointed out LG had issues previously as well) – funny these guys are some of our biggest mobile phone vendors.

Gonzo February 13, 2015 1:22 PM

I’m so tired of hearing of the “internet of things” as some sort of utopia — its really a nightmare.

What is the transport mechanism Samsung is using to send this data? Is it going over TLS encrypted in some fashion? Is it going as mere compressed audio? Is it “encrypted” with some wonky private encryption scheme with a single key for all the televisions?

Dick February 13, 2015 4:34 PM

Obama to encourage companies to share cyber threat data

I’m in total agreement with Mr. Wallace above. In this day and age, considering how vulnerable we’ve become to the actions of those with the most evil of intentions, privacy is a luxury we can no longer afford. For the greater good I think it’s imperative that each and every one of us open our lives up to the careful scrutiny of those who have gallantly taken it upon themselves to secure our blessings of liberty and justice and apple pie.


bbbbbbb February 13, 2015 4:37 PM


Very low quality bait, work harder. The topic is more of corporate surveillance than the govermental one.

OldFish February 13, 2015 4:48 PM

I just want my TV to be a dumb monitor, maybe with shitty speakers. When the current TV dies any new TV will be disassembled and scrubbed of unnecessary sensors and antennas. I’m willing to void the warranty. If I screw it up I’ll throw it in the recycle bin and try again.

Bear February 13, 2015 5:10 PM

Consider a truly personal computer, made for a friend using an Arduino, a mux shield, a bunch of sensors, some motor controllers, and a few hacked sex toys. Most of the sensors – accelerometers, gyroscopes, strain gauges, thermocouples, etc – are mounted in the toys, but a few are elsewhere – including a mike to pick up any screaming or moaning, some electrodes, and a repurposed ‘fit’ wristband.

It monitors physiological signals – heart rate, breathing, muscle tension, skin conductivity, and other things (I was even trying to get an EEG working but didn’t manage it). In particular, rhythmic muscle tension is a very clear sign of orgasm, which is the single most salient data point for the item’s purpose.

It does cluster analysis on measured physiological states (artificial-neural-net output based on recent sensor readings), forming a sort of ‘state machine’ where transitions from one state to the next are known to correlate with given types and durations of stimulation. Then it’s mostly a matter of applying Dijkstra’s algorithm probabilistically to continually estimate how many seconds of path traversal would be required to cause the most rapid possible orgasm. And it has several settings: Maximize number of orgasms, maximize time spent in a state of orgasm, maximize time spent within fifteen seconds of orgasm but never quite getting there, and get there gradually, via the greatest variety of different physiological states possible, with each state at least as close as the last, over a countdown which can be set to anything up to 9 hours 99 minutes and 99 seconds. We considered using a different timer IC to make it longer, but there were some concerns about safety and staying hydrated, so we decided not to.

It’s a ‘personal’ computer because it learns. Its cache of observed data points, its neural net evolution, its cluster analysis, its ‘state space’ where distance is measured in seconds of reproducible stimulus, and in general its ever-more-accurate and ever-more-complete model of how to do what it does – that’s all personal profile information which these ‘magic toys’ now learn and refine during use. The code is adapted from a process control system, but I cut networking out of it: it has its own SATA hard drive and it’s a one-node network (one-site installation) as far as that software is concerned. The microphone output isn’t recorded with sufficient fidelity to understand as speech (at least I don’t think that it is – it records pitch and volume at quarter-second intervals) but it could be.

I shudder to think of the violation of privacy that would be happening via that ‘Fit’ wristband right now if I had left it intact and tapped into it, rather than just ripping it for its sensors. For that matter, if someone were to develop these toys commercially, there would be absolutely no way they wouldn’t be networked, with all the nightmarish implications that has and probably much higher-fidelity sound recordings. I can even make a clear use case for networking them, using the same stuff that’s already in that process control library – refining a general process model, information mining to make the profile-learning process go faster by being able to make comparisons between different ‘installation sites’, etc – there is absolutely no question that the device’s primary function would definitely be enhanced (or at least that it would learn it much faster) by enabling networking.

And there is absolutely no way its users would want that information networked. Well — not most of them anyway. Everybody is into at least a few things that others aren’t into.

Happy Valentine’s day everybody. Did you get your sweetie something nice? 🙂

cyphertext February 14, 2015 4:10 AM

You know, we really are headed for a Brave New World, a Brave New Nineteen Eighty-Four, somewhere in between Huxley’s and Orwell’s dystopias but increasingly, I see, closer to Huxley’s insightful vision (based on what he knew about technologically at the time, though clearly it was enough, and combined with insight into human nature and history behind you – boom, powerful prediction he gave), I truly fear for new evils that have NOT been in this world before, because of the sheer capabilities given to man by all this science, and technology – we’ve always had the same capacity for evil (and for good), to kill each other, to oppress, to inflict terror, but this time we have that same evil being GIVEN STEROIDS. Being given ‘God’ powers, as people from eras past would call it if they only saw it now.

Because: we have NOT seen everything under the sun. We have NOT seen nanotechnology before. We have NOT seen drones (with not just all-seeing eyes, but all-killing weapons, and even all this now in tiny ones the size of mosquitos, too). We have NOT witnessed such planet-wide upheaval of the earth’s resources and elements, being shifted around and exposed to places they ought not to be.

We truly are destroying ourselves, and the planet. The downward spiral feels both slow and fast, at times.

And yet, I still see nature as overwhelmingly more powerful than man and all his machines (and the evil he can do with it). One can take solace in that. And one CAN leave society (and about 99% of its surveillance) too, if one chooses – and no, not become a hermit in the hills but actually form OTHER societies, OTHER ‘states’ (your own ‘savage reservation’) – go join the Amish, go join or start a hippie commune – this possibility exists ALWAYS. It does today, as much as it did 40 years ago.

But the state itself can only get worse, and sadly, taking such a drastic action as above is the ONLY way I see of meaningfully escaping the surveillance and societal oppression that the modern industrial corporate-government complex brings.

Fortunately, infinitely better and longer health (and the simpler, but deep, powerful pleasures in life and in this world), are also to gain by taking such a step. Chances are, an enormously more enlightened existence and understanding of the universe (or ourselves), as well. (Possibly.) So it’s not all that bad. You know, people DID live, rather happily, without all this technology, some time ago! And now you can pick the best of ALL worlds – and have relative safety in which to do it (no vikings ready to raid your lands and rape your sisters exist anymore) – no individual in human history has ever had the sheer freedom and opportunity to truly shape their existence, like one can now. These are positive times, if you have the unction to act.

The choice . . . is yours.

I’d say you have three choices, really. You can be:

  • A Cypherpunk (cheat the system – pillage its bounties via hacking and minimize its control over you with a life full of paranoia, devoid of boredom, and at the great expense of your physical health whereby you’re likely to die by 50 from a brain aneurysm or some form of rare cancer)
  • Sucker. (suck it up – the bread, the circuses, the google now, the surveillance – and the UTTER dependence, AND powerlessness, against the state (forget about trying to be individual or go against ‘the system’ in general), against the corporation, or frankly, anyone who wants to ever hack your data and hold you ransom at any time in the future. Like the government. You are weak, you are powerless, and you are extremely controllable.)
  • Exit the system. (become a hippie/native) Hey, you’ll live the longest…

Most people will be the middle category. That is what is sad. They’d rather marvel movie entertainment and google now, than the freedom to truly live as human beings…for one. single. second. I’d rather live a shorter (or longer) life, in which I had more freedom and control – than the middling one in which I had none at all (except the freedom to obey orders from the state).

John E. Quantum February 14, 2015 7:52 AM

I think the NSA is conspiring with my cats. I often find the cats have turned on the TV by laying on the TV remote when it was left laying on the couch. Sometimes they wake up my laptop by walking across the keyboard. What were they promised in return for their assistance? An unlimited supply of canned tuna? They communicate back and forth with an unbreakable form of cat crypto based on eye blinks and tail flicks.All those Fancy Feast commercials are in reality how they receive their orders from The Man.

CallMeLateForSupper February 14, 2015 10:28 AM

“funny these guys are some of our biggest mobile phone vendors.”

Funny-sad, yes. One wonders if the likes of Samsung and LG actively seek out new methods and new devices that expose customers’ data.

Dr. Who February 14, 2015 10:31 AM

@John E. Quantum
“An unlimited supply of canned tuna?”

Haha, you never know what the secret agreement entails…

Although my cat often keeps staring at me when I walk into a room she is in. I did suspect that those eyes might be recording something. Perhaps The Government is controlling the poor feline through that chip implant…

albert February 14, 2015 11:52 AM

I got a kick out of @Andrew Wallace and @Dick (nice choice of handle, BTW) comments. I kept looking for >sar> >/sar> tags.
Someday we’ll have AI s/w that tags them automagically.

65535 February 14, 2015 2:34 PM

“Samsung buried its listening details in its privacy policy — they have since amended it to be clearer — and we’re only having this discussion because a Daily Beast reporter stumbled upon it.” – Bruce S

It is obvious that these so-called “privacy policies” and “End User Licenses” need to be carefully reviewed by EFF style of lawyers on ALL electronic communication devices and software, including TV’s and other non-traditional listening products and rated as to their intrusiveness or dangers in a broadly disseminated consumer forum.

Better, would simplified non-legal “readable” summations in bold print for the consumer on each and every electronic communication device on the market [including the probability of said devices being used as spy devices by various Agencies]. Not multi-paragraph legalize hidden in the install program.

This should also prohibit over-broad, deceptive or abusive legal statements that “Our Company collects and stores your data pursuant to the law.” Each law should be clearly stated including so-called “national security” laws [CALEA, specific section of 215 and 702 laws and so on].

Please excuse the spelling and other error’s I have time constraints.

jay February 16, 2015 9:03 AM

Another little tidbit.

There was a case recently a case where a customer was making a ‘lemon law’ claim against Tesla. It turns out he had a history of buying cars, then making claims after a few months for 3x damages.

But the interesting thing was that Tesla had a record of every thing he did on that car including opening the hood and trunk at times suspiciously correlated to the ‘failures’ that allegedly occurred.

They know when you open your hood or doors????


jay February 16, 2015 9:08 AM

This whole privacy thing is really a variation on the Santa Claus idea. Kids are conditioned to accept this creepy fat man spying on them because he brings presents.

Now we have this in the adult world.

jay February 16, 2015 9:33 AM

Andrew Wallace: NSA are only listening for terror plots and don’t care about your conversations not even your criminal designs are of interest to them.

It’s been found that NSA has been passing dirt/info/hints that it stumbles across to police. This is not legal, so it’s done quietly with a “why don’t you look over here” approach. Suprisingly, the cops just ‘stumble’ on suspects. Often in these cases, judges, attorneys and even prosecutors don’t realize where the information origionally came from.

Rob February 16, 2015 10:45 AM

But if txet on ealmis and fbaocoek eerntis – wreevehr – is jmelubd, tehn atuetomad prcisnoesg of our wtreitn rnlaibmgs wloud be hdaerr. Ufauolrttnney tihs is haredr to do wtih the sopekn wrod.

Paul Schlyter February 17, 2015 4:34 AM

“When they’re caught stealing, how can they be punished? What does it mean to fine a machine? Does it make any sense at all to incarcerate it? And unless they are deliberately programmed with a self-preservation function, threatening them with execution will have no meaningful effect.”

What about just turning the offending machine off? To be turned off could, for a self-conscious machine, appear like execution (remember HAL in Kubrick’s movie 2001), however a machine that’s been turned off can usually be turned on again, while an executed person cannot be brought back to life.

Or we could compare with what we today do with machines which can unexpectedly become harmful. For instance electrical appliances which turn out to be electrically unsafe. That happens from time to time, and if the offending appliances are manufactured by a responsible company, these appliances are being called back and replaced for free with safe ones.

Finally, if machines should be held legally responsible for harm they may do to people, should these machines also be acknowledged human dignity if they don’t harm people? Consider a machine which has done good service for many years, without harming anyone or anything, but now it’s either worn out or obsolete and needs replacement. How should we treat that old machine? Today we turn it off, pick it apart and throw the pieces away or recycle them. To treat people in a similar way, i.e. kill old people who cannot work anymore, would be considered highly immoral. Perhaps it should be just as immoral to turn off an old machine which we would have held legally responsible for any illegal things it might have done while in service?

We could compare with how we treat animals — our dogs, cats and cattle. An animal cannot be held legally responsible for anything, if anyone is responsible it’s the owner of the animal. But what about wild animals which have no owner? They cannot be helt legally responsible either, but humans decide on actions upon these animals based on perceived risks of the actions of these animals. If a lion in a zoo kills a visiting person who has climbed into its cage without permission, no action is done with the lion, it’s rather the person who is considered to be the offender. If the same lion instead kills its daily caretaker, the situation will be judged differently.

Perhaps our attitudes towards wild animals is a good guide to our attitudes towards “super-intelligent machines” (i.e. machines much more intelligent than today’s machines) in the future — particularly if these machines are so autonomous that no human can be held responsible for their actions. Wild animals are autonomous too, and no human can be held responsible for the actions of one individual wild animal.

If we, in the future, decide to hold also machines legally responsible for their actions, we have a related problem to consider: shouldn’t also animals be held legally responsible for their actions? Particularly those animals who are more intelligent than our machines. And this brings us another problem: how do we make the machines, or the animals, understand the laws? Humans who are so retarded that they cannot be expected to understand the laws cannot be held legally responsible either for their actions, so what about animals or machines?

Tom February 17, 2015 3:18 PM

Laws against snooping are good. They should mitigate against giving excessive power to neighbours, ex-girlfriends, faceless civil servants, or our politicians.

But to protect us from snoopers from other countries, eg, the 4 other eyes or more evil ones, we need required physical barriers. You should have internet-connected cameras, eg your phones, laptops, or wifi cameras, encased or obstructed. Ditto for microphones.

Ideally, physical barriers should be required by law, eg, laptop cameras which can be turned down, microphones with covers, etc.

fajensen February 18, 2015 7:13 AM

I honestly don’t know if this is THAT big of a deal, here’s why: the television requires you to take action to hook it to the Internet

Here, In Sweden, “Television” comes over the internet via streaming. You want TV, you can go and connect your TV to an IP network!

I have a 36″ monitor and a small Linux computer – this is by random chance, I got the monitor when my son moved to a small apartment, I had the computer already and because the IP-TV solutions at the time needed a dumb box anyway, I left it like that because I wanted a TV without the damn box and the separate remote.

I guess now I don’t want an IP-TV equipped TV so much.

Jonathan Cretsinger February 19, 2015 9:37 PM

Why is this even news? On Jun 21, 2004, Apple filed a US Patent US7535468 B2 for Integrated sensing display. This allows a LCD screen to not only display an image, but act as a camera as well. What this means is, your HD TV, computer monitor, smart phone, tablet and more could be watching you. Do you find this hard to believe? Since Apple has patterned this technology, it has dropped out of public view. I find it odd that there is no current technology using this patent that we know of. Or is this something that is happening without our knowledge?

ianf July 8, 2016 6:35 AM

@ Carol, reminded back in February 2015 of “the book “1984” where the telescreens were watching you 24/7.”

    Telescreens do not watch people,

    people watch telescreens,

    and then there are other people

    behind the telescreens watching

    people who watch telescreens.

    There, I sorted you out.

    Next you were going to tell us
    that guns kill people.

ianf July 8, 2016 7:01 AM

Apologies to all for awakening a oldie thread on Samsung’s spying televisions.

@ fajensen
                    – the spying in question is done by Samsung’s brand of “SmartTV,” but you mentioned having IPTV via a Linux box feeding a non-smartTV-TV. I’ve seen a number of such stand-alone set-top IPTV boxes for freely available streamed channels + specific premium by subscription (primarily sports I believe) paid channels.

    Other than the KODi (its key streaming client app), and the emitting sources knowing what IP requested what channel, and for how long it is being watched, what else could those Linux (and Android KitKat 4.2.2(?)) units spy on the viewer?

BTW. does your Linux setup include the functionality to show subtitles/ close captioning/ teletext where such is being broadcast or streamed alongside the main content? I can’t seem to be able to find that out… and I like to part-watch TV with the sound OFF but with the captions.

JG4 July 31, 2016 8:57 PM


Thanks for keeping the heat on the TV question. I recently talked to a guy who said his TV wouldn’t turn on without a WiFi password to enable real-time reporting of his viewing habits. I’m keen to buy a bigscreen to use for watching The Unfolding Great Collapse(tm) in comfort and privacy. I’d like to use something like TOR to anonymize my viewing habits, so I need to identify a model that doesn’t phone home, or at least is easy to disable. It should be obvious to everyone at this point that guns don’t kill people, it’s the bullets.

Leave a comment


Allowed HTML <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre> Markdown Extra syntax via

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.