Samsung has just given us another graphic lesson in how internet-connected smart devices aren't actually better than the dumb gadgets they replaced.
Numerous Reddit users are reporting that Samsung smart TVs are spontaneously inserting Pepsi ads in the middle of streamed videos. This first popped up on the Plex subreddit, and has been confirmed on Plex's own support forums and on the support forums of Australia cable provider Foxtel.
All of the complaints from Plex users are echoing the same general tale: the user is watching a video from their personal library, when it is spontaneously interrupted by a 30 second ad spot featuring Pepsi.
I watch most of my TV shows on a Samsung Smart TV and it has been fantastic for the past year. Recently it has been stopping half way through a show or a movie and has played a pepsi ad that is muted.
It does not do this on any other platform (PC, PS4, tablet) has anyone else experienced this?
The Foxtel subscribers report that the ad is interrupting live TV:
... after about 15 minutes of watching live TV, the screen goes blank, and then a 16:9 sized Pepsi advert (taking up about half the screen) pops up and stops Foxtel playing. It's as if there is a popup ad on the TV. I have not installed any other software or apps - I just factory reset and loaded up Foxtel. So again, WTF?!!
Foxtel customer service has pinned the blame firmly on Samsung, and reports the advert "appears to be a Samsung related issue and has been escalated to them with the highest priority".
Given that several victims have reported that their smart TV was updated recently, Samsung has probably finally enabled the "ad stuffing" tech which first showed up on some Samsung smart TVs around this time last year. The ad seen last year hyped Yahoo, not Pepsi, but the situations are similar enough that they must be related.
Cnet reports this was a technical glitchon the part of samsung and that a Foxtel spokesperson said that "this was an unintentional action by Samsung that we're working closely with them to resolve ASAP."
That may be true, but it doesn't abate the privacy and other concerns related to Samsung's products.
That policy has been compared on Twitter to 1984, and with good reason:
For the past few years I've been reading any number of pundits that smart devices would one day fill our houses and change our lives. Given all of the problems presented, both by Samsung and with devices from other makers like LG, I've come to doubt whether the label of "smart device" is really all that accurate.
The Samsung smart TVs, as well as the LG devices which were spying on users, are slaves to the programming of the manufacturers.
That seems like a pretty dumb machine to me. In fact, I'd argue that the label smart device is wrong; these are less smart devices than they are limited function computers.
Cory Doctorow explained a few years ago why that was a problem:
We're not making a computer that runs only the “appliance" app; we're taking a computer that can run every program, then using a combination of rootkits, spyware, and code-signing to prevent the user from knowing which processes are running, from installing her own software, and from terminating processes that she doesn't want. In other words, an appliance is not a stripped-down computer—it is a fully functional computer with spyware on it out of the box.
We don't know how to build a general-purpose computer that is capable of running any program except for some program that we don't like, is prohibited by law, or which loses us money. The closest approximation that we have to this is a computer with spyware: a computer on which remote parties set policies without the computer user's knowledge, or over the objection of the computer's owner. Digital rights management always converges on malware.
At the time that was a far-fetched speculation, but in light of the recent Samsung news it has proven to be an accurate prediction.
And that, folks, is why I plan to keep my TV and other appliances as dumb as possible. If I want a smart device, I'll use my laptop - something I can control.