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Samsung's smart TVs are inserting unwanted ads into users' own movies

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Samsung

Samsung's smart TVs have already come under fire this week for a poorly worded privacy policy that apparently let the devices listen in on owners' conversations. Now, there are reports that the sets are inserting ads "every 20-30 minutes" into users' own, locally stored content. There's been a string of complaints online by customers using third-party video apps such as Plex and Australian service Foxtel, with most referring to rogue Pepsi ads interrupting their viewing. "After about 15 minutes of watching live TV, the screen goes blank, and then a 16:9 sized Pepsi ad (taking up about half the screen) pops up," wrote a professed Samsung smart TV owner on Foxtel's support forums. "It's as if there is a popup ad on the TV."

Complaints about unexpected ads first appeared last month

Samsung addressed similar complaints in January after tech writer David Chartier posted a picture of a pop-up ad for a "Yahoo Broadcast Interactivity" app appearing on his smart TV. Samsung explained that these sorts of ads were supposed to be opt-in only and was working with Yahoo to improve the system.

"We are working with Yahoo to create an opt-in screen prompt specific to their service as soon as possible," Samsung told Business Insider, adding that to disable them users should "press Menu on your Samsung Remote and scroll to Smart Hub > Terms & Policy > Yahoo Privacy Policy. Scroll to 'I disagree with the Yahoo Privacy Notice' and you can toggle the option on to opt-out." The option itself is not only buried so deeply in the TV's menus that most users wouldn't find it without prompting, but the language itself seems deliberately confusing; an example of the sort of user interface "dark patterns" that companies use to trick us.

A picture of Yahoo's Privacy Notice on a Samsung smart TV. (siliconaddict/Ars Technica)

However, despite these earlier complaints it seems the same Yahoo scheme might also be to blame for the new intrusions, with Reddit users advising one another to uncheck the web company's privacy notice to disable the ads. At the time of writing, Samsung hadn't responded to our request for comment, but the company's Australian division told CNET that ads seen by the country's users were the "result of an error that occurred as part of a recent software update that was not intended for the Australian market" and that the problem was now "rectified." Note that Samsung isn't saying that the ads weren't planned — but merely that they weren't planned for the Australian market.

The internet has given consumers more control than ever before over what TV they watch and when, and adding this connectivity to the biggest screen in the house certainly makes sense on paper. However, companies like Samsung and LG have proven time and time again that smart TVs aren't about giving more control to consumers — they're about taking it away; with obtrusive privacy policies, clunky software, and adverts, adverts, adverts. So much for the future: perhaps it's time to bring back the dumb TV.