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AL GILKES: Is Samsung really spying on us?

Al Gilkes, [email protected]

AL GILKES: Is Samsung really spying on us?

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That’s the dilemma facing cellphone owners and users across the world, including Barbados, since a video started circulating on Facebook and other social media claiming that the battery in Samsung smartphones has a hidden chip that leaks what should be your private information – videos, photos and other images – via the Internet for other persons, including government agencies, to see without your knowledge.

I first became aware of the claim about two weeks ago when a relative pushed her phone into my hand and ordered me to “watch this”. On the screen was what appeared to be a YouTube video in which a man held a Samsung phone, removed the back cover, took out the battery and then stripped it of its covering to reveal a chip attached to the underside.

I subsequently learned that a world of people were thrown into panic mode by the video and immediately followed the instructions given on how to find and remove the chip.

Obviously, no one wants to have his or her private information made available for the world to see, especially if it includes selfies of places other than faces, if you know what I mean, and never intended for any other person’s reaction.

Technology experts

I did not know whether to believe or not believe the claim but in order to breathe easy I opted for the response of the experts on the technology, who admitted that the battery does carry a chip but assured that it is “actually useful rather than harmful” for the phone owner.

They said it’s just a simple NFC (Near Field Communications) chip and “it does not spy on you and certainly does not upload pictures and videos of you on the Internet”.

They also revealed that some OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) seal the chip in the plastic back of the phone, while some like Samsung hide it in the battery which they say is done mainly to urge the user to buy an original battery from the company when the need arises.

Further testimony that Samsung does indeed put its NFC chip in the battery came by way of a Samsung Galaxy Nexus teardown by iFixit which also clearly revealed the NFC antenna inside the Nexus’ removable battery.

An accompanying blog revealed that according to the user manual not only does the battery power the phone but also doubles as the NFC antenna.

It adds, “There’s a sweet antenna hiding underneath the battery’s shiny wrapper. So if you ever want to buy a replacement battery (and keep NFC functional), ensure that the battery has the antenna.”

It’s over to you now to believe or not to believe.