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14th February

 Updated: Big Brother's Listening...

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Particularly closely to Samsung Smart TV viewers
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Samsung TV Samsung is warning customers about discussing personal information in front of their smart television set.

The warning applies to TV viewers who control their Samsung Smart TV using its voice activation feature.

Such TV sets listen to some of what is said in front of them and may share details they hear with Samsung or third parties, it said.

Privacy campaigners said the technology smacked of the telescreens, in George Orwell's 1984, which spied on citizens. Presumably the 'third parties' receiving the data are the likes of GCHQ and the NSA.

Samsung's privacy policy explains that the TV set will be listening to people in the same room to try to spot when commands or queries are issued via the remote. It goes on to say:

If your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.

Soon after, an activist for the EFF circulated the policy statement on Twitter comparing it to George Orwell's description of the telescreens in his novel 1984 that listen to what people say in their homes.

Samsung explained further in response to the international interest:

If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature, voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search. At that time, the voice data is sent to a server, which searches for the requested content then returns the desired content to the TV.

Samsung claimed that it did not retain voice data or sell the audio being captured. But this does not really deny the possibility that the data is passed on to GCHQ.

Update: Samsung rewrites its privacy policy to remove the ominous sounding '3rd Party'

11th February 2015. See  article from  theregister.co.uk

Samsung hasn't actually changed how its TVs' voice recognition works but it has just changed the language of its privacy policy to help clarify how the voice-recognition works. Samsung no longer warns customers about the perils of speaking too freely in front of their televisions. Here's what it says now:

To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some interactive voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service provider (currently, Nuance Communications, Inc.) that converts your interactive voice commands to text and to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you.

The new language appears to indicate that Samsung is only sharing the audio data it captures with a speech recognition provider and not with more sinister partners, such as GCHQ and the NSA.

Update: Microsoft and Apple Too

14th February 2015. See  article from  dailymail.co.uk

Official Xbox Kinect Sensor Adventures Millions of Britons are being spied on in their homes by Microsoft's voice-activated Xbox game consoles, Apple smartphones and other hi-tech gadgets.

Kinect-controlled Xboxes listen to everything around them, silently waiting for commands such as Xbox turn on or instructions to load up computer games.

Apple also records what people say when they press a button on their iPhones and issue a command to its voice activation service Siri, but the firm says the data is anonymised, but this can usually be unpicked with information such as GPS location. According to a source, Apple hangs on to the information for up to two years.

Microsoft's Kinect gadgets are so sophisticated and pervasive that Britain's telecommunications security agency, GCHQ, is even said to have considered using them to monitor families.

Like most gadgets that use voice recognition, Xboxes controlled by Kinect record what people say then translate that information into text commands so that the device knows what to do. Simple commands such as Xbox turn on are recorded and processed on the spot, but more complicated instructions are sent to powerful remote servers for translation.

Microsoft said its customers can stop Kinect listening by unplugging it.

 

10th January

 Update: What a bunch of big girl's blouses...

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Chinese TV censors ludicrously cut cleavage from popular TV series. (Just like Thai TV censors too)
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empress of china There's been a bit of an online backlash in China over censors cutting all cleavage from scenes in a popular TV drama about China's only female emperor.

The drama, The Empress of China , also known as the Saga of Wu Zetian was pulled from the schedules of commercial satellite station Hunan TV for technical reasons late last month, Xinhua reported.

When it returned a few days later, the show, starring the famous Chinese actress Fan Bingbing in the title role of Wu Zetian had been conspicuously edited.

Scenes of female characters, with cleavage showing dressed in period costume, had been cropped out, leaving only close-ups of their heads.

The Global Times insisted that a system of control was necessary. it wrote in a propaganda piece: 

The reality is that censorship exists in many countries and it is unlikely to be reversed in China.

Changes to The Empress of China sparked fury among mainland internet users, who argued that censors had gone too far. An online survey released by the Sina Weibo microblogging service on Monday found that nearly 95% of respondents disapproved of the censorship of The Empress of China.

Some mainland bloggers, who renamed the drama The Saga of Wu's Squeezed Breasts , mocked the decision by censors. They circulated a series of edited pictures on social media, showing people how to highlight the head and hide the breasts when it comes to other characters.

The Global Times newspaper noted the defiance in an editorial:

While the censorship was largely done out of moral concerns, the resulting public outcry should serve as a warning for the future. While it is powerful, censorship lacks authority. In this sense, when using censorship, more considerations should be given to public opinion to garner support and avoid similar incidents.

 

5th January

  Netflix Goes all Territorial...

Netflix website disables access via VPN and proxy
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netflix logo Netflix is starting to block subscribers who access its service using VPN services and other tools that bypass geolocation restrictions. The changes, which may also affect legitimate users, have been requested by the movie studios who want full control over what people can see in their respective countries.

Due to complicated licensing agreements Netflix is only available in a few dozen countries, all of which have a different content library.

Some people bypass these content and access restrictions by using VPNs or other circumvention tools that change their geographical location. This makes it easy for people all around the world to pay for access to the U.S. version of Netflix, for example.

The movie studios are not happy with these deviant subscribers as it hurts their licensing agreements. Previously entertainment industry sources in Australia complained bitterly that tens of thousands of Netflix VPN-pirates were hurting their business .

Over the past weeks Netflix has started to take action against people who use certain circumvention tools. Thus far the actions are limited in scope, so not all VPN users may experience problems just yet. However, TorGuard is one of the VPN providers which noticed a surge in access problems by its users, starting mid-December.

Netflix is reportedly testing a variety of blocking methods. Eg querying the user's time zone through the web browser or mobile device GPS and comparing it to the timezone of their IP-address.

TorGuard told us that if Netflix continues with a strict ban policy, they will provide an easy solution to bypass the blocks. Other services, such as Unblock-us are also suggesting workarounds to their customers.

 

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