Careful what you say: Your Samsung TV might be listening


Your-Samsung-TV-might-be-listeningSamsung warns customers new Smart TVs ‘listen in’ on users’ personal conversations

Samsung has come under fire from privacy campaigners after it emerged the company’s new smart TVs are capable of listening to your conversations.

The issue was first highlighted by the Daily Beast, which warned readers not to talk about incriminating matters such as “tax evasion” and “drug use” in front their TV sets.

Hidden away in Samsung’s privacy policy is a single sentence which may change the way you behave in front of your TV:

“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.”

The privacy policy goes on to warn:

“In addition, Samsung may collect and capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features.”

Viewers hoping to take advantage of the voice activation feature have been warned by Samsung not to disclose personal information because voice recordings can be captured and transmitted to unidentified third parties.

Samsung insists it takes consumer privacy seriously, but did not name the third party which translates speech to text.

Even viewers who do not activate the voice recognition feature are still at risk of being snooped on, as the machine continues to collect data through its microphones. The only way to stop a Samsung smart TV from eavesdropping on your conversation is to disable voice recognition data collection in the settings menu.

Careful, the TV might hear you (photo:Flickr, Wonderlane, CC BY 2.0)

Samsung claims it collects transcribed voice data in order to improve the technology’s features.

An investigation last year by consumer magazine Which? found that smart TVs made by LG, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, and Toshiba track people’s viewing habits – something consumers agree to when they accept the TV’s terms and conditions.

Users who choose not to accept their TV’s terms and conditions may end up reverting to a not-so-smart television. While Toshiba and LG block internet access and apps, Samsung reportedly stops customers from using the TV at all.

Privacy campaigners have compared the TV sets to ‘telescreens’ – televisions which also act as surveillance cameras in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Park Higgins compared Samsung’s privacy policy to the famous book in a tweet on Sunday. It has already received 14,000 retweets.

Samsung has responded to the public backlash against its privacy policy, claiming it takes such concerns “very seriously.”

“If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature, voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search. At that time, the voice data is sent to a server, which searches for the requested content then returns the desired content to the TV,” the company said.

Are new Smart TVs too smart for our own good?

We all know how it feels to have a big set of ears around the house – that child or house-guest who picks up on everything you say, forcing you into furtive whispered conversations, darting glances and the odd shared note.

But now anyone who wants to upgrade to the latest home entertainment gadgetry is being warned to prepare for more inquisitive ears.

Reuters / Jo Yong-Hak

As one leading technology manufacturer has now acknowledged, household appliances have advanced to the point where they’re starting to “listen in” on our conversations.

In its privacy policy for its latest smart TVs, Samsung has issued a warning to customers against discussing any personal or sensitive information around the telly when its voice recognition feature is activated.

Here’s how the policy states that warning, as vocalized by another well-known voice recognition application.

SIRI: Please be aware that if you’re 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. Would you like to reply?

Of course anyone with Siri or something similar on their phone knows you have to be careful what you say sometimes.

See also: New app reveals how your smartphone can spy on you without permission

But what troubles some observers about smart household goods like TVs and other products is the fact that you may not always be sure when your new gadget is listening in.

I suppose the interesting thing, or the interesting difference between the television and the phone example is that when you’re dictating into a phone you know exactly what you’re doing, whereas with a television you might just be sitting around chatting to your friends and you’re inadvertently activating sort of this voice command technology which will start recording what you’re saying.

Technology experts admit that “big brother” may not be actually paying any attention to what we say just yet, more how we say it.

But where can it go?

When it says don’t discuss personal information in front of your TV, what it’s actually saying is that identifiers of your voice are being sent to third party services when you’re using this television. LG has a very similar clause in its terms and conditions as well.

So what are these third party services doing with our voices? Are they actually keeping recordings of what we’re saying?

They’re not so much keeping recordings so much as keeping data points. Those data points mean what you’re voice inflection sounds like, you know, which words that you said.

For example the Australian accent in particular is very, very difficult to decode. Samsung worked with people at Macquarie University to actually figure out what people were saying before they could bring voice recognition to Australia. Microsoft had similar problems as well.

So it’s about getting a better quality of service. But it really raises questions about what we’re going to do in the smart home in the future. This is the first time that people have actually recognized that, hey, this might be a problem if we start giving all of our information over in our smart home to third party services.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors/source and do not necessarily reflect the position of CSGLOBE or its staff.

Paid content

What's New Today