Every Monday, I will be taking on corporations, exposing their unethical practices, how they sell our data and the other things that make them richer and richer at your expense. I will try to share with you not just our findings, but also provide some solutions. Today we start with the world's best selling cellphone company, Samsung. But this story is not about the mighty pen, or the great camera, but about the things you didn't know.
One would have thought that all of the big conglomerates would nowadays be very careful when it comes to their labor practices but not so at Samsung. A well known Korean media outlet has been visiting several of the Samsung production sites around Asia and has released a very negative report. Skirting local labor laws or simply just ignoring them has been common practice in those manufacturing venues. The younger the workers, the easier it is for them to be exploited, with factories engaging non-contractual labor with those individuals being unfairly terminated and replaced with a fresh batch as needed.
This is particularly prevalent in Indonesia where workers in their late teens are employed but not hired again once then reach their early twenties. The rationale behind this is the existence of a huge pool of cheap labor coming out from the schools and vocational centers, all vying for those much needed jobs. For those lucky enough to be on contracts, they are normally short-term, just long enough to cover the peak manufacturing period. This works well for Samsung, as annual bonuses can be avoided. It cannot be claimed that this is the norm in Indonesian factories as Samsung’s workers often sit alongside other workers who are employed on a permanent basis. Interviews at the factory gate have confirmed all of this.
When it comes to wages, it transpires that Samsung are clearly short changing their workers. Whilst Sanyo and Panasonic pay the industrial minimum wage in Indonesia, Samsung only pays a lower wage and applies that across the region, blatantly breaking the law.
In India, a country well known for its indentured child labor at the brick kilns, Samsung is not behaving any better. They are taking advantage of the apprenticeship scheme wherein probationary work is allowed for on-the-job training but such recruits are put out onto the main production line and treated as ordinary workers. They are subject to verbal abuse and threats of dismissal if targets are not met. Probationary workers are not supposed to be given production quotas but the opposite is the case as they are put under immense pressure to meet unreasonable levels of output. Their monthly salaries fall far short when compared to regular workers and this non adherence to labor regulations is exploitative in the extreme. These probationary workers hold on hoping to be employed on a regular basis but this is seldom the case. Samsung uses a backdoor method of changing the category of their work in order to re-hire them but still on the same terms.
In China, forced overtime of over 100 hours a month in Samsung factories is commonplace and with wages being so low, employees find themselves in an endless cycle of over-work in order to make ends meet. China Labor Watch have monitored 6 Samsung-owned production sites which showed that there was little compliance with safety measures. Sitting during shifts was forbidden with employees at times being physically and verbally abused. Having entered the factories incognito, the investigators were able to see for themselves, with interviews of the employees taking place away from the factory gates. Allegations of employing child workers have dogged Samsung for years but when faced with the evidence, the Korean manufacture has claimed that fake ID’s were the issue. However, the correct hiring and supervision procedures were never in place thus allowing such abuse to happen.
Whilst Samsung should be thoroughly condemned for these terrible practices, a degree of blame can also be laid at the door of each of the host countries who have welcomed the Korean conglomerate with open arms, preferring at times to overlook these serious malpractices and take the economic gains instead. Shame on them also.
Now, having seen how they treat their employees who slavishly work to churn out those smartphones, TVs, fridges, and other home appliances, which we all enjoy using, let’s spare a thought for how Samsung regards you and I, the end consumers.
Many smartphone users were rightly very concerned when it came to light that the Samsung Messaging app has at times been known to send all of a user’s photos to their contact list. Wow! Only when they get a concerned message from the recipient do they either laugh out loud or jump off a bridge. People constantly complain about their data being “shared” without their permission but sending out photos like this brings Samsung’s incompetence to a new level. The vast majority don’t need a geeky explanation as to how this happened but to have a grovelling apology from Samsung for such a huge breach of trust.
You should use Signal as your main messaging app and also use it as your SMS app. Combined with other messengers like Riot, Briar, Telegram or Threema. We have a final chapter on our secure or not so secure messengers coming up, including a review on Briar as we did not cover it in our last round up.
Pre-installed bloatware is another issue on Samsung phones and although less prevalent now, users can still end up getting advertisements via push notifications. Are Samsung giving you a heads-up about free stuff which is available? Absolutely not. Once you have shelled out big bucks for their latest device you can, for example, end up getting ads for the Galaxy Note 10+, or the Galaxy Watch 2. Advertising expensive gear in this fashion is an unwelcome intrusion.
But it doesn’t stop there. Samsung have been taking advantage of their position as a major manufacturer of cellphones to modify their devices to get hold of your personal information which you thought should be protected. A nice business sideline for them is to be surreptitiously selling your data or at the same time using it to enhance their own in-house advertising. This is of grave concern to businesses and individuals, all of whom rely on their commercial and personal details to be kept private. Apparently the Samsung Pay app is sharing personal information with vendors. Because of the California Privacy Act, Samsung has had to come clean and admit that it “may have” passed on a significant amount of identifiers, commercial information and preferences belonging to users. This is very disturbing as other Samsung made apps are at it as well, harvesting your music interests, your searches and the metadata from the photos you take, all to be sold on to the highest bidder. The Samsung Pay app has now an opt-out function (in the USA!) for your data to be sold! But don't be fooled this works probably as well as the "Do Not Track" option in your browser!
This is cool isn't it? Considering you can opt-out from something you never signed up to in the first place, after all you paid for a phone which comes at a hefty price in the first place, why should you need to worry about your data being sold on top of this.
They've also been working with Qihoo 360 a well known Chinese data 'security' and collection company, and your phone keeps connecting to their services. They have addressed this by explaining this is just to scan some junk data and are not about having access to your phone. This said, we can see permanent connections on our AdGuard Home setup and the PiHole who shows connections to 360.cn, and also to baidu.com, qq.com and many others. This sadly also happens when you use your camera or browse your gallery! Some bloatware also includes Facebook that is not removable! The Samsung Keyboard looks and feels great, but sends data to at least two servers for data analysis, which means that everything you type on the keyboard gets analysed! We recommend to remove/disable the keyboard via ABG, but of course, only after you have installed a replacement! For example the AnySoftKeyboard on the f-droid store!
It is likely you can remove/disable bloatware and you can find more in the Privacy Cookbook, which covers Samsung Phones. If you have one, do not skip this chapter!
If you do not want to go through the hassle of adb connections and removing bloatware, please at least use AdGuard, NetGuard or NextDNS and add these domains manually to your blocklist!
If you use a PiHole or AdGuardHome also add them to your blocklist!
Last but not least, do not use Samsung Internet as your browser as Samsung Internet intercepts URLs and submits data to Samsung!
Bixby and also the weather app are more then questionable and we don't need to point out that your voice is submitted to Samsung servers, you can opt-out of this, but are you 100% sure they don't submit data anyway?
Samsung's new Visit In gives you the power to connect to nearby stores and exclusive deals, as great as this sounds, it also means they track every move and give you the deals of their partners.
Have you ever wondered why TV sets are getting lower and lower in price? Certainly there is healthy competition between the big manufacturers and ever increasing efficiencies on the production side. But a good income stream for the likes of Samsung comes from the spying activities of their sets. Whilst privacy is paramount in other areas of tech, the smart TV industry seems to be lagging far behind as our sets sit in the corner of the living room watching us whilst we watch them. Once they have enough information about our viewing habits, we are bombarded with targeted ads. Recently at a press conference a Samsung spokesman did acknowledge that there was a need to “discuss privacy” when it came to their TV’s monitoring what viewers were watching. This is hardly getting to grips with the situation when clear guidance should be available during initial set-up of TVs to have a choice to opt out in order to get rid of this form of home invasion.
When it comes to corporate arrogance however, the first prize must go to Samsung. Back in 2015 it was reported Samsung TVs were eave dropping on us.
Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party
the policy reads.
Your TV viewing history includes information about the networks, channels, websites visited and programs viewed on your Smart TV and the amount of time spent viewing them. We may use automatic content recognition (ACR) and other technologies to capture this information. Your Smart TV transfers video snippets or TV tuner information in order to determine the programs watched.
The good news is if you don't connect your TV to the internet, you won't need to worry ;) But if you actually want to use your TV as a Smart TV there is a solution.
Shutting Off ACR on Samsung TVs
On newer Samsung Smart TV models, including those from 2019, find Settings on the main menu, then look for Support, then scroll down to Terms & Policies
You will have a number of options, including Viewing Information Services, Interest-Based Advertising and Voice Recognition Services. Turn off Viewing Information Services to prevent the set sending ACR data directly to Samsung.
Turning off Voice Recognition Services stops the TV collecting voice data including the searches you make, the apps you use and websites you visit. However, you won't now be able to control the TV using voice commands.
Shutting down Interest-Based Ads means you'll get general rather than personalized ones.
On older Samsung sets, the ACR controls are found under the Smart Hub menu. Go to Settings, click on Support and then locate sub-menu entitled Terms & Policy
In that sub-menu, look for SyncPlus and Marketing, and you’ll see an option to disable SyncPlus. You can also turn off Voice Recognition Services and disable voice commands
At a preview for its 2020 range at CES, Samsung revealed a new app on its TVs, namely 'Privacy Choices'. As Smart TVs have increased in their ability to profile and track your activities, this app gives owners a place where they can see what data is being collected and opt-out if they so wish.
And use PiHole or AdGuardHome and add the following two lists to your blocklists.
Samsung - Snooping
Samsung TV - Smart TV
Samsung’s powerful grip on South Korea - recent press reports
The public is disappointed that this kind of large-scale crime caused by cozy relations between politics and business still happens -- it's not in the past but remains a reality," Judge Kim Jin-dong said in court. He also laid some of the blame on Park, saying the former president made aggressive demands
2018 Samsung admits fault over illnesses and deaths of workers
We offer our sincere apology to our workers who have suffered with illnesses and their families
-Samsung Electronics co-president Kim Ki-nam (L)
2019 Article from Bloomberg further shedding light on the political situation of South Korean and the Samsung conglomerate, showcases recent scandals and the rising voices of the people regarding the economic model that allowed conglomerates “Chaebols” to grow so large.
Samsung's headquarters is in Seoul, Seoul Teugbyeolsi. Samsung has a revenue of $196.9B, and 320,671 employees as of 2019.
Samsung Corning Precision Glass
Samsung Life Insurance
Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance
Samsung Investment Trust Management
Samsung Venture Investment
Samsung BP Chemicals
Samsung Fine Chemicals
Machinery & Heavy Industries
Samsung Heavy Industries
Other Affiliated Companies
Shilla Hotels and Resorts
Samsung Medical Center
Samsung Economic Research Institute
Samsung Foundation of Culture
The HO-AM Foundation
Samsung Press Foundation
10 Corso Como Seoul
Rag & Bone
Enough said, I think - Samsung is just the beginning, there are way more unethical and shocking things to come, when we take on the next usual and unusual suspects. Next week Apple ;)