The TV is smart because it says so on the box (how can you argue with that?) and itís capable of connecting to the internet. Itís dumb because it thinks itís smarter than I am! And, its ominously intrusive with a built-in microphone and a terms of service ďagreementĒ as long as your arm. You have to agree to the terms of service while setting up the TV or some features wonít work, such as Netflix. (Is it an agreement if you have little choice but to agree?) But itís the built-in microphone that really ďbugsĒ me. So much so, that I decided to disable it. And that is what Iíd like to share with you today.
The microphone is actually located in the Samsung Smart remote, which uses a Bluetooth connection to communicate with the TV. Why a microphone in the remote you might ask? Ah! Well, itís all the better to implement its Siri-like voice recognition feature, you see. Samsung must think thatís a pretty cool selling point. But itís not something I was looking for in a TV and raises this concern: when and what sounds are being transmitted back to the mother ship? Hereís an excerpt from the Samsung terms of service:
ďIf you enable Voice Recognition, you can interact with your Smart TV using your voice. To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service that converts speech to text or to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you. 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.Ē
Iíd really rather not have my speech snippets traveling over the internet, thank you very much, and I certainly donít want them stored in the cloud forever and/or tagged with marketing queues. And, I really had no desire to utter voice commands to my TV in the first place, I just wanted a big-ass TV with a great picture.
Every bit of my being knows that the speech recognition isnít good enough to be more than mildly amusing when it works, and frustrating when it doesnít. My first few tests ended up calling up a YouTube video of something totally unrelated to what I was saying. Waiting for a YouTube video to load is the last thing I wanted to be doing. Itís reminiscent of the telephone voice menus youíre often subjected to: ďIím a smart automated customer assistant. Please say Ďyesí to continue.Ē ďYesĒ. ďIím sorry, I didnít understand that. Please try againÖĒ. Those things drive me crazy!
So I opened the remote control to get a feel for how this thing works. As you can see in the photo below, the mic is one of the new tiny MEMS devices (Microelectromechanical systems) Ė very small indeed. The output of the mic is routed to a Texas Instruments analog to digital converter chip (ADC) which converts the audio to digital information. The chip also supplies the bias voltage (voltage that powers the microphone).
I probed the circuit board to get a feel for how it works. Pressing the remote controls ďVOICEĒ button generates a timed 3-volt pulse, powering the microphone for a few seconds. During that time I could observe the electrical signal on my oscilloscope as I spoke to my remote control. What did I just say? Oh my Gawd, Iím talking to my remote!
This experiment almost belayed my fears. It would seem that the microphone doesnít activate unless you press the ďVOICEĒ button and then itís only active for a short time. But I still donít trust the television not to enable it in other ways. Samsung could address this by offering a switch (say in the battery compartment) that disables the microphone in hardware thus eliminating any chance of the microphone being powered.
I sent a query to Samsungís customer service voicing my concerns. Their response was predictable, saying that the TV was carefully designed and manufactured based on marketing research, and they donít provide a means to disable this feature in hardware.
So back to disabling the mic. I could deduce from my experiment what needed to be done; disconnect the bias voltage in some way so the microphone cannot be powered. I could see a tiny resistor labeled R405 on the circuit board and connected between the bias output of the ADC and the microphone power pin. The resistor measures 9.8 ohms, forming part of a simple R-C filter thatís part of the microphones bias circuit. This would be a perfect place to interrupt the microphone power without damaging the circuit board.
Although I could go to the trouble of installing my own switch in place of the resistor, I really donít ever want to re-enable the feature. so I went ahead and just removed R405. The microphone will never work again Ė unless I decide to re-install the resistor.
Iíve been doing this kind of stuff for a lot of years, so I must caution you Ė it takes a steady hand and a fair amount of skill using a very fine-tipped soldering iron to remove this resistor. Itís an 0402 sized resistor, which refers to the physical size of the part Ė about 0.039″ x 0.020″ in size (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surface-mount_technology
). If youíre not accustomed to doing this type of work, be careful and donít blame me if you damage your remote control!
After removing the resistor, everything works as it should Ė except for the voice recognition feature. Precisely what Iíd hoped for!
Letís hope that manufacturers or lawmakers realize that privacy is important, but Iím not holding my breath! Until then, think carefully about the implications of owning one of these televisions.
Samsung's CEO went as far as making a statement stating, "If you want to have a private conversation, don't do it in front of one of our TV's"
The hubris of these people has exponentially gotten more brazen and ballsy...
Don't even want to get started on this being utilized by that illegal Corporation, un-Constitutional, evil NSA
, Big Brother WILL
Watch You one way or another now, ...feel invaded yet?....and your cars are next, Onstar on steroids, audio/video baby...
test trials Right NOW, in Europe...Orwell's 1984
is a comic book compared to what they're planning,
"This Roman Meal Bakery; thought you'd like to know