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Samsung “accidentally” inserts unwanted advertising into its New 4K and Smart TV programming

by on February 11, 2015
 

Stephan Jukic – February 11, 2015

TV advertising is something generations of households have had to endure for decades and for the most part we dealt with it and moved on. However, when the era of smart TVs with subscription programming came around all that intrusive advertising seemed like a thing of the past and most of us (okay, everybody) was probably glad for it.

This is why it was a rather ugly little piece of news to recently see that the newest 4K smart TVs from Samsung were starting to insert advertising in a number of their movies and shows.

Samsung claimed that the entire matter was an error in their programming software but we’ll get back to that in a bit.

The entire issue started from an incident this last Monday, February the 9th in which a Reddit user complained in one of his posts that a muted advertisement for Pepsi suddenly started playing while he was watching different shows and movies. The phenomenon continued for some time and only appeared on his Samsung TV, not on other platforms like his PS4, tablet or PC, despite the fact that the content files were stored on the users same local Plex server from which these other devices were also accessing the same content.

According to the Plex forums themselves, the solution to the odd ad problem is to click “disagree with the Yahoo Privacy Notice” option located deep inside Samsungs Smart Hub platform options menus. However, a Plex spokesperson who spoke with GigaOm claimed that their company has absolutely nothing to do with the unwanted ads appearing.

Thus the blame fell upon Samsung.

More evidence of this mounted up as a number of TV owners in Australia also complained that their Smart TVs from the same brand were being crammed with these same Pepsi ads, which appeared in their Foxtel (An Australian cable service platform) programming. Foxtel also quickly came forward to notify the media and its customers that the ads absolutely should not be appearing and that they had nothing to do with their presence.

Soon enough the pattern became clear: Samsung TVs were the only source of the advertising and the likely culprit.

Yahoo was at first bein blamed as the culprit behind the unwanted Pepsi ads in the Samsung smart TVs

Yahoo was at first bein blamed as the culprit behind the unwanted Pepsi ads in the Samsung smart TVs

Finally Samsung Australia spoke up and explained in a public statement that the Pepsi ads seen by various users were caused by an “error that occurred as part of a recent software update that was not intended for the Australian market”.

The company also unequivocally stated that “…the issue has now been rectified and that there are currently no plans to introduce this type of advertising in Australia in the near future”.

Thus, at least for now, Australian Smasung Smart TV customers could rest easy knowing that they would remain add free.

However, this isn’t even the first time that the issue has popped up. In January of 2014, older models of Samsung Smart TVs had also started showing a number of unwanted ads in their programming and in that particular incident, Samsung had stated that it was exploring new interactive developments –“interactive experiences, as the company had phrased it—which would later be offered to consumers on an opt-in basis.

All of this sounds unthreatening enough but if deeper digging is done, what we find is that the Samsung smart TV terms and conditions have one particular (and possibly unrelated) section which is a bit worrying as far as privacy and intrusive advertising go:

 In addition, Samsung may collect and your device 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.”

In other words, if you enable the Voice recognition feature on your Samsung Smart TV, the company transmits what you say in front of the TV to third parties and that data can obviously then be used for targeted advertising.

Samsung itself pushed back against the speculation about this specific policy by stating that it only transmits voice data to third parties during moments when you specifically address the TV and actually request a voice command search. But the fact remains, the company is capable of hearing specific, non-contextual information that has nothing to do with your commands to the Samsung TV in those moments.

The act of sending the data to third parties is not necessarily so strange by itself, given that the company needs the cooperation of databases belonging to other companies for delivery of better voice search results (since Samsung alone doesn’t keep all sorts of detailed programming information on hand).

However, the prospect of having your chats with friends and family in front of the TV is still a bit disconcerting and also raises the question of whether or not these unusual Pepsi ads were a small, narrowly defined part of a wider experiment by Samsung to test audience reactions to targeted advertising that has been enabled through voice or written search on their smart TVs.

It’s worth noting that the Yahoo privacy policy agreement that is supposedly to blame for this latest Samsung advertisement incident seems deliberately designed in such a way that disabling it is tricky and confusing, in other words a possible part of the kind of “dark pattern” wording and design that companies often use to trick users into submitting to more ads, more intrusion and more prying software.

This itself brings up a fundamental issue: Smart TVs do offer us an enormously broad new world of entertainment flexibility but at the same time they also bring more complexity, more intrusive, invasive “privacy” rules and more craftily designed advertising into our lives. Consumers might need to vote more forcefully with their dollars and show manufacturers like Samsung that they prefer not to have their lives pried into for the sake of extra sales revenue.

Story by 4k.com

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