WikiLeaks Says the CIA Listened in on Samsung Smart TVs

The revelation would go beyond what manufacturers already track. Here's how you can shut down at least some snooping features.

samsung TV remote microphone button Consumer Reports

We've been reporting on the personal information being collected and shared on smart TVs for several years now. But if a new WikiLeaks revelation is indeed true, the CIA may have been hacking into Samsung smart TVs—and other iOS, Android and Windows devices—for the past several years.

The accusations of CIA hacking are part of a series of leaks, code-named “Vault 7" by WikiLeaks. Within the CIA, an engineering group reportedly developed and used malware called “Weeping Angel” that essentially transformed smart TVs into "covert microphones.” WikiLeaks said that the program began targeting Samsung smart TVs back in 2014.

The Weeping Angel malware was reportedly able to place TVs into a "Fake-Off" mode, where users thought the TV was off, but it was actually recording any conversation in the room and sending it over the internet to CIA servers.

The news comes as Americans already are concerned about their privacy. A total of 65 percent of those in the nationally representative CR Consumer Voices Survey told us they are either slightly or not at all confident that their personal data is private and not distributed without their knowledge.

"Today's reports about the alleged vulnerabilities of consumer devices are cause for serious concern, and CR will be monitoring developments, asking questions, and listening to and communicating with consumers to ensure that their voices are being raised as this story unfolds," says Marta L. Tellado, President & CEO of Consumer Reports. "Just yesterday, CR announced a new initiative to advance the privacy and data security of consumers in the face of digital vulnerabilities—including those presented by connected products such as phones and televisions.

"Today's news underscores the urgent need for strong privacy protections in the digital marketplace, and CR will work tirelessly to advance the rights of consumers to safeguard themselves from intrusion and abuse, whatever its source," Tellado adds.

We've reached out to Samsung for a comment, but haven't yet heard back. In the meantime, here's how you can turn off the snooping features in Samsung smart TVs. These are good things to do in general to protect your privacy. Just keep in mind that it may not be enough to stymie the CIA's agents.

Steps to Follow

On newer smart TV models, click the Settings icon in the main menu, look for Support, then scroll down to Terms & Policies.

There are several options, including Viewing Information Services, Voice Recognition Services, and Nuance Voice Recognition and Privacy Notices. You can choose not to accept any of them. Then disable the Internet-based Advertising feature.

Turning off the voice-related services will inhibit your use of voice-controlled functions with the TV, but you won't notice any difference when you simply opt out of "viewing information services."

On older Samsung smart TVs, the ACR controls are found under the TV's Smart Hub menu. Look for the icon for Settings, click on Support, and find the sub-menu titled Terms & Policy. Choose SyncPlus and Marketing, where there's an option to disable the feature. Turning off Voice Recognition Services will disable voice control, a feature that sends your voice commands to a third-party vendor for processing.

James K. Willcox

I've been a tech journalist for more years than I'm willing to admit. My specialties at CR are TVs, streaming media, audio, and TV and broadband services. In my spare time I build and play guitars and bass, ride motorcycles, and like to sail—hobbies I've not yet figured out how to safely combine.