A few days after Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) made headlines when it was learned that its smart TVs were able to listen in on owners' conversations, the electronics maker is back in the news for similarly negative reasons.
Users of the company's Internet-connected smart TVs have reported on social media that mysterious ads are popping up while they watch content stored locally and while watching video on third-party apps. Specifically, people have cited Pepsi ads appearing both on local content and when using apps including the Australian video app Foxtel.
"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."
Others in the forum reported the same problem, including one who said he did not have Foxtel, and reached the conclusion that "It's the Samsung TV for sure."
A Foxtel customer service rep, writing on the forum, backed that up.
"This absolutely should not be happening and has been escalated immediately," the Foxtel employee wrote. "This appears to be a Samsung related issue and has been escalated to them with the highest priority."
While pop-up ads are a common occurrence on websites, they are being served by the site, not your computer. In this case, the ads are being delivered by the TV on top of the content the television owner is watching.
Samsung has been caught doing this before. Technology writer David Chartier last year posted photos on his blog of the offending ads running over content he was playing from an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) TV device.
"Bought our Samsung Smart TV two months ago, now it's showing popup ads for apps and services," he wrote. "To clarify: what you see is my Apple TV in the 'background' (running a photo screensaver) and a Samsung ad for Yahoo Broadcast Interactivity popping up on top of my Apple TV."
That post prompted a response from Samsung that was reported by Business Insider and included somewhat-less-than-intuitive steps to opt out of the ads. The opt-out method was also well hidden, making it unlikely a user not looking for the option (because in many cases he or she would not even know Samsung was serving the ads) would be unlikely to find it.
What is Samsung saying
Samsung released a statement in Australia, as reported by CNET, which attempted to explain what was happening:
Samsung Electronics Australia is aware of an issue that has caused some Samsung Smart TV users to experience program interruption in the form of a Pepsi advertisement.
This was a result of an error that occurred as part of a recent software update that was not intended for the Australian market.
We can confirm that the issue has now been rectified and that there are currently no plans to introduce this type of advertising in Australia in the near future. Samsung Electronics Australia would like to apologise for any inconvenience that this has caused to our customers.
To translate: This might have been a mistake, or Samsung got caught doing something that people really didn't like and won't do it again. Of course, you have to wonder why Samsung would develop this technology if it had no plans to use it.
This hurts Samsung's reputation
After the "your TV is recording your conversations" scandal lit up social media, the last thing Samsung needs is another controversy. The company must avoid being thought of as producing eavesdropping smart TVs that serve up unwanted ads.
Samsung has been aggressive in explaining what its TVs are actually recording, but that info is not anywhere near as viral as the idea of people's television sets listening to them. Still, the company was right to be proactive in that case, and it should do the same here.
Kill the unwanted ads. Say you're sorry and promise to never do it again (then actually never do it again), and perhaps this will blow over.
Daniel Kline owns shares of Apple. He is not concerned that his TV is listening to him, but we would be worried if it started speaking to him. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, PepsiCo, and Yahoo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, PepsiCo, and Yahoo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.