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Tech Retrospect: Samsung's terrible, horrible, very bad week

Samsung's one-two, bad-news punch this week could have a lasting impact on its TV business. Also, new hardware from Nintendo 3DS and from our future robot overlords. All that and more in your look back at the week in tech.


Today, spare a thought for Samsung's television division. It had what you could call a terrible week of epic proportions, something of a perfect storm of bad PR. And yes, while there are those who would say there is no such thing as bad PR, it's hard for me to see this as anything but.

First up were the hugely negative reactions to the company's privacy policy on its Smart TV line, which includes this terrifying warning to those who would make use of the voice recognition functionality: "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 through your use of Voice Recognition."

Phrasing, as we all know, is everything, and in this case the heavy layer of legalese served to comprehensively bite the company in its posterior -- precisely the piece of anatomy that this legal warning is supposed to protect. What Samsung meant to say, is that the voice recognition is handled by a third party, namely Nuance, which also powers Ford's SYNC and plenty of other systems.


The company updated its privacy policy to clarify that the sets are not "always listening." Of course, there are plenty of devices that are always listening, like the Amazon Echo, or your iPhone, or your Lollipop-running Android phone , so if this kind of functionality concerns you, maybe steer clear of those, too.

The other black eye for Samsung came a few days later, when their sets suddenly and mysteriously started inserting commercials where they didn't belong. Specifically, a Pepsi commercial that played every 15 minutes while people were watching content streaming directly over their local network. Samsung confirmed it was a glitch and that glitch has been fixed, but the fact that the functionality even exists makes me a bit nervous to say the least.

US carriers now required to unlock smartphones

Want to take your HTC One M8 or Galaxy S5 to a different carrier? That just got easier. Josh Miller/CNET

Since the beginning, it's been standard operating procedure for US smartphone carriers to lock you into their services. Moving a phone from one to another has been a huge hassle at best, impossible at worst -- but that changes now. As of Wednesday, all US carriers are required to unlock their subscribers' smartphones upon request. That, of course, assumes that the phones are fully paid for. Once unlocked, you'll be free to bring your device with you from one carrier to the next -- though keep in mind that not all networks are compatible with each other. So, make sure you verify with your new carrier before you tell your old one to go climb a frankentree.

New Nintendo 3DS XL ships

The New 3DS and New 3DS XL. The US only gets the one on the right. Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're in the Americas or Europe, you can finally get your hands on a new version of Nintendo's 3DS XL. The system has been out in Japan since last year, but now it's finally arrived to a place where I can buy one. Well, to be clear, I did pick one up while I was in Japan, but thanks to region locks, it can't play American games and, well, let's just say my Japanese isn't so hot. The system costs $200 here in the US and, if you're a frequent mobile gamer, I'd say it's well worth the upgrade. The new display makes the 3D effect actually usable.

Cook calls sitting 'the new cancer,' says Apple Watch will help


Are you sitting while reading this? That's okay, I'm sitting as I write it -- despite the fact that I have a standing desk. Tim Cook would not approve. This week, at a Goldman Sachs conference, the Apple CEO said " sitting is the new cancer" and pledged that the Apple Watch will help. The device will be able to notify you when you're being overly sedentary, which on one hand sounds nice, on the other terribly annoying. It is certainly a little tragic that the watch itself will need to spend so much time sitting still on its charger.

'Kill switch' smartphone feature proving effective

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon applauds California for mandating kill-switch software in all smartphones sold in the state. James Martin/CNET

The carriers didn't want it and the wireless providers didn't want it, either. But, they've come around and, guess what, it's working. The so-called "kill switch" functionality in many modern smartphones, which disables them remotely, has resulted in a 25 percent decline in smartphone theft in New York City and 40 percent in San Francisco, according to a Reuters report. Thieves beware.

Spot is the robot dog from Google's Boston Dynamics

Curious what Boston Dynamics has been up to since Google acquired the company in 2013? Well, here's your answer: Spot. Think of Spot as a friendlier, down-sized version of the company's previous four-legged machine Big Dog. You can see the little guy in action in the video above, doing its very best while humans dress it up in stupid costumes and kick it. They kick it a lot. The video does point out that no robots were harmed during the filming of the video, but that's probably only because they can't feel pain. Yet.