If Facebook and many more Internet platforms are capable of showing personalized ads on your computer according to your online behavior, why shouldn’t the same be true for our smart TVs? Paul McMillan, a German security expert, has proven that smart TVs are so smart that they can analyze the programs or films that you watch so as to be able to choose ads that might interest you.
McMillan realized this while watching the film Inglorious Basterds on his Samsung device. A few minutes after starting, a pop-up appeared which invited him to join the army.
This is my Samsung SmartTV with a US Army pop-up ad on top of Inglorious Basterds streamed from Netflix on my FireTV pic.twitter.com/wuONS4VUfg
— Paul McMillan (@PaulM) January 19, 2016
It isn’t the first time that someone has reported that these intelligent devices display publicity adapted to each user. However, to know their preferences, they need to analyze videos that are watched every day. So will they install a system to recognize the different content being watched?
The German investigator wanted to check if the ad continued to be shown despite changing the origin of the video. He used the same platform (via Amazon), but connected his computer to the television and watched the film from there. The pop-up returned again, meaning that the process depending on Samsung and not on the content provider.
Consumer Reports, which tests and analyzes new products, has already warned that smart televisions use an automatic content recognition system, which monitors videos that are watched, be it from YouTube or on DVD.
The companies could be sending this information to third-parties, which could include consultancy and publicity firms, who are both very interested in creating personalized advertising.
However, the audience doesn’t need to accept everything that is thrown at them. Samsung has already faced complaints over its supposed use of voice recognition systems on its TVs to spy on conversations. In its service conditions, it stated that user should be careful with their words, as this and other information was being shared with third-parties.
At the start of 2015, Samsung began to show Pepsi pop-ups on applications for streaming videos. The company brushed this off by saying that the ads formed part of a collaboration with Yahoo and that they were optional. The customer could disable the ads in their settings, but Samsung had previously failed to advise anyone of this.
Vizio, a manufacturer what operates mainly in the USA, also admitted that its televisions can recognize the content of the screen, which in the future could be used to send “ads in line with your interests”.
All of these firms earn money in exchange for advertising, which in turn allows them to sell their products at a more competitive price. However, their practices have placed security experts around the world on alert.
Nobody has asked their customers, whose only option (until now) seems to be in looking through the TV’s settings to find how to disable the ads. Will there be an ad blocker for smart TVs in the future?