When I worried about smart TVs and spying

To some who read this blog, I must seem like a paranoid maniac. After all I’ve written at least four times about how your smart TV might be spying on you. The first time I wrote about it in 2012, it was concerning this event. Unfortnately that article was lost to time, a victim of some database issues that surfaced when we moved to a new platform in 2017. About two years later I wrote again about the possibility that Samsung smart TVs could be used to spy on people.

In 2017 I was back at it, following news headlines that even the CIA believed your smart TV could be hacked to spy on you. Finally, last year I uncovered the fact that Samsung smart TVs have malware checkers but they don’t run by default.

Seems like over the years I’ve been pretty worried about this issue.

The biggest problem has (mostly) been solved

Samsung put microphones in some of its high-end smart TVs made between 2012 and 2016. These were intended to power voice-controlled remotes. Now we’re all fans of voice assistants, but we’re just now beginning to realize how insecure they make our lives. Amazon has admitted that its recordings could have been used inappropriately and that its Alexa smart devices could be listening even when you’re not realizing it. Apple has said on several occasions that it uses contractors to listen to Siri conversations for accuracy. Samsung no longer has cameras or microphones in its TVs that we know of, so that particular problem is pretty much solved.

But security is a big deal.

It seems like every day I hear of one person or other having an account hacked. It’s like clockwork. People should change their passwords every six months or use a password app that generates and stores single-use passwords. I talked about this a lot in an editorial from 2016. The real problem is that the entire password system is broken and unreasonable. If you follow good security protocols you’ll never remember all those passwords. If you don’t then all your accounts will fall victim to the same hacker in the same day.

Two-factor authentication is great but…

In the last year it’s become common to say that “two factor authentication” is a must-use for common accounts like Google and Facebook. In other words, when you log in using one of these “super” accounts, the kind that can be used on a lot of sites, you get a text message on your phone with a number you need to key in. If you don’t key in the number then you won’t get in.

Which is all well and good except most of the time you’re logging in with your phone and you’re getting the code on your phone so it really doesn’t help. If someone steals your phone and unlocks it they’ll get the two factor codes too.

Which then leads you to the next problem…

Biometrics aren’t the answer either

I have to admit we haven’t seen a rash of crimes where people cut off fingers, gouge out eyeballs, or whatever just to get into people’s phones. But we have seen where facial recognition and fingerprint recognition can be fooled, and it’s not even incredibly hard.

I’m just glad it hasn’t gotten to the point where people are getting maimed in order to steal their information. Yet. No one is saying that it won’t happen.

When I throw back to this article in 2025…

chances are we won’t have the answer then either. But hopefully we’ll be a little further ahead in finding it. Until then all I can say is try to keep your passwords safe and keep scanning your TV for viruses. Because, that’s the world we live in now. It’s not likely to change..

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.