Samsung’s Smart TVs are excellent advertisements for dumb TVs

“Smart” TVs offer lots of functions that advertisers want—but not many that are appealing to owners

 
Samsung TV with popup ad over a movie
“You weren’t watching that, were you?” Samsung’s Smart TVs are rapidly becoming excellent advertisements for dumb TVs.

Hot on the heels of Voice Recognition-gate comes news that Samsung is also inserting ads into movies being watched on its smart TVs.

PREVIOUSLY: Let’s all calm down about Samsung’s “eavesdropping” TVs

A number of Samsung TV owners are reporting seeing Pepsi commercials inserted into movies they’ve been watching. The alarming part is that the movies aren’t part of any Samsung-oriented service, but rather on users’ own hard drives.

This brings up the question: why would anyone want one of these things?

As Gigaom reports:

Reports for the unwelcome ad interruption first surfaced on a Subreddit dedicated to Plex, the media center app that is available on a variety of connected devices, including Samsung smart TVs. Plex users typically use the app to stream local content from their computer or a network-attached storage drive to their TV, which is why many were very surprised to see an online video ad being inserted into their videos.

Plex says it has nothing to do with the ads. Users, meanwhile, report that the ads pop up regularly, with one viewer saying he saw the Pepsi commercial in six different movies, about 20 to 30 minutes in each time.

Samsung did not immediately return a request for comment.

The new controversy comes just days after questionable voice recognition data collection policies were found in the company’s terms of service.

The terms revealed that personal or sensitive information gathered via Samsung’s smart TV voice recognition features would be “captured and transmitted to a third party.”

Privacy advocates raised fears that the company was spying on private conversations within the home, characterizing the revelation as “unbelievably outrageous.”

In a blog post clarifying its policy, the company said its televisions do not monitor living room conversations, but they do send voice data to Nuance Communications, the recognition technology provider, to evaluate and improve the feature.

Anyone who is uncomfortable with voice recognition can disable it in the TV’s settings, Samsung added.

Taken together, the two controversies make a strong case against smart televisions—or those that connect to the internet for various features—where the downsides are increasingly outweighing the upsides.

For the most part, the appeal of smart TVs is that they allow for the installation of apps such as YouTube and Netflix, which allow viewers to use those services directly without having to connect a separate device such as a game console, a Roku box or an Apple TV.

Some manufacturers, including Samsung, have also tried to use the connectivity to sell their own services, such as video rentals, but these have had limited success. Samsung, for example, shut down its own video and media hub last year.

Even prior to these recent controversies, smart TVs from various manufacturers—not just Samsung—have been notoriously… not that smart. Terrible interfaces, slow and unreliable connectivity, firmware updates that bonk everything, wonky voice recognition – many TVs have suffered from some or all of these issues.

In a lot of cases, users have simply given up on using the “smart” features in favour of slicker and more reliable options found on other, attachable devices.

In my case, I don’t even use Netflix on my smart TV anymore—it kept going on the fritz after every firmware update on the TV. Instead, I stream it through Google’s Chromecast dongle, which is fast, easy to use and cheap. Most importantly, it always works.

It’s possible that set-top box, dongle and console manufacturers could try the same unpopular moves as Samsung—indeed, Microsoft generated similar privacy concerns last year with voice recognition on its Xbox One—but their devices are typically much cheaper than televisions and therefore more easily replaceable.

Televisions are a different story—once someone has paid thousands of dollars for one, they’re generally stuck with it. Attachable devices and the sorts of things manufacturers can get away with are therefore much more malleable to consumer opinions, and especially outrage.

If anything, the Samsung controversies are showing that smart TVs might be more valuable for the manufacturers than they are for consumers. The case for connecting them to the internet, as a result, has never been weaker.

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