Ever since I’d read a news story about how identity thieves are hacking into webcams and computers to do their dirty work, that tiny dot-sized camera had become a giant eye staring at me and it was giving me the creeps.
I figured some do-it-yourself pre-emptive action on my part couldn’t hurt, if only to give me some peace of mind. It worked.
I didn’t think much about it again until I watched my friend and cybercrime expert, Bob Sullivan, on TODAY discussing Samsung Smart TVs. It seems that these Smart TVs that come with voice control (also known as voice recognition) are super smart with an interactive feature that allows its owner to use many of its features with voice commands. Simply put, you talk to the remote control instead of fiddling to figure out which buttons to press.
Samsung SmartTV is listening all the time, too. It not only collects what you say into its remote control—Samsung uploads and stores everything Smart TVs hear from the room without encrypting it. You can read about it in Samsung’s privacy policies.
“That means anyone who can insert themselves between your TV and Samsung’s collection devices and its partners can hear what you say on your couch. Not a surprise,” said Bob. “New gadgets always arrive with features first, security second. Watch this pattern play out again and again as The Internet of Creepy Things invades our home.”
Samsung is not alone.
I have recently learned that if you use Verizon for your mobile service provider, it is tracking everything you ever do on a phone—every email, every page you visit, everything you click—to build a data-rich dossier—and then sells it to marketers. How’s that for creepy?
You are probably aware that this kind of thing happens on your home computer because of something called “cookies” that record your movements in cyberspace. The difference is that you have the option to turn off cookie tracking with a single click (go to your browser’s “Preferences” and then “Privacy” settings to turn cookies on or off). Not so with Verizon wireless. It attaches “supercookies” to your device, without your permission or a one-click way to opt out.
Apparently AT&T experimented with its own supercookie project but supposedly abandoned it in late 2014. But that doesn’t mean that AT&T is not experimenting with an even bigger collection-like program.
My paranoia returned with a vengeance when I heard about mobile device supercookies because I, your humble columnist, am a Verizon wireless customer. And I like to think that I enjoy some level of personal privacy.
I immediately dialed “611” from my mobile phone to speak with Verizon Wireless customer service. After a medium-sized runaround, I was put in touch with a technical specialist.
I explained the reason for my call and that I wished to opt-out. Of course, this woman had never heard of anything I was talking about. After about 10 minutes of getting nowhere, she informed me that I should stop listening to the media—that surely this was some kind of rumor circling the Internet and that there absolutely was no such thing as supercookies data collection of any kind going on with Verizon wireless.
I did not give up. My source for this information was solid. Consumer advocate Clark Howard is absolutely correct—the tech “expert” at Verizon was dead wrong.
Verizon as of this writing continues to stubbornly impose its supercookies on all of its wireless customers. And in response to consumer outrage, is now offering a way for its wireless customers to opt out.
If you use Verizon for your wireless service provider, call Verizon, toll-free, at 866 211-0874. This is a completely automated call that will walk you through simple steps that will allow you to opt-out for your mobile device only, or a blanket opt-out for every phone and device on your plan.
I made the call and it was a simple process to opt out. I recommend that you do likewise if you are a Verizon wireless customer.
By the way, Clark Howard recommends that Verizon customers go to the other guys. “T-Mobile will pay your early termination fees, AT&T is cheaper than they were, and Sprint will cut your bill in half.”