Samsung Warns Of TV Eavesdropping

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Users of Smart TV should be careful of what they say in front of it, according to Samsung

Samsung has warned that users of its Smart TV should expect their words to be recorded and transmitted to an unspecified third party.

The television, which features on-demand programs, mobile applications and an unusually high screen resolution, also includes a voice recognition tool that relies on an Internet-based service to help recognise words and improve the service.

Privacy © Tischenko Irina Shutterstock 2012

In Samsung’s privacy policy for the tool, the company disclosed that “some voice commands”, along with data about the device, would be transmitted to a third-party service to be converted into text.

“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of voice recognition,” the policy states.

Like smartphones, the television also gathers data from user habits, browser information, cookies and other sources, in addition to any data that may be collected by third-party applications.

The privacy policy adds that even if voice recognition is switched off, the company may still collect data related to the feature.

“While Samsung will not collect your spoken word, Samsung may still collect associated texts and other usage data so that we can evaluate the performance of the feature and improve it,” the policy reads.

Responding to users’ privacy concerns, Samsung said in a statement that it uses “industry-standard security safeguards and practices, including data encryption, to secure consumers’ personal information and prevent unauthorised collection or use”.

The company also noted that the voice-recognition feature can be switched off, and the device disconnected from the Internet. Samsung noted that a microphone icon on the screen indicates when the device is recording.

Privacy concerns

Even so, as noted by privacy advocate Parker Higgins of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, by default the television bears a striking resemblance to the telescreens described in George Orwell’s 1948 novel 1984, which monitor the speech and actions of those near them.

“You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinised,” Orwell wrote.

Samsung is also, along with Apple, one of the world’s largest makers of smartphones, which have been criticised for the amount of user data they collect.

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