Your Samsung SmartTV Is Spying on You

Samsung claims that this spying is to make their SmartTvs smarter through their Voice Recognition feature by sending your communications to a third party in order to have spoken word converted to text.

The possibilities curdle in the mind. So much so that I have contacted Samsung to ask how broad this policy might be and what third parties might be informed of your personal conversations. (I would have just shouted at my SmartTV to get comment, but it isn’t a Samsung.)

A Samsung spokeswoman told me: “Samsung takes consumer privacy very seriously. In all of our Smart TVs we employ industry-standard security safeguards and practices, including data encryption, to secure consumers’ personal information and prevent unauthorized collection or use.”

But what might be authorized and by whom?

Samsung’s spokeswoman continued: ” Should consumers enable the voice recognition capability, the voice data consists of TV commands, or search sentences, only. Users can easily recognize if the voice recognition feature is activated because a microphone icon appears on the screen.”

Yes, we must now look for little microphone icons to check whether we’re being listened to.

As for the third parties mentioned in the privacy policy, Samsung explained it to me like this: “Samsung does not retain voice data or sell it to third parties. 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.”

One imagines this is simply one more small step for mankind toward ultimate electronic envelopment, which some see as a very good thing.

Your Nest and other devices will, of course, capture so many of your domestic predilections too. This is about making the Internet of Things merely one more thing in making your life easier, lazier and seemingly less private.

Clearly, this isn’t the only option for those intent on a SmartTV. You can disable the full panoply and stick to a series of already-defined voice commands. However, this still brings with it stipulations such as “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.”

Alright, you cry, I’ll switch voice-recognition data off altogether. This will result in “You may disable Voice Recognition data collection at any time by visiting the ‘settings’ menu. However, this may prevent you from using all of the Voice Recognition features.”

As Samsung’s spokesperson explained to me: “Voice recognition, which allows the user to control the TV using voice commands, is a Samsung Smart TV feature, which can be activated or deactivated by the user. The TV owner can also disconnect the TV from the Wi-Fi network.”

You might imagine that other SmartTV manufacturers would have similar controls and stipulations. If a product can listen and record something, it’s likely it will.

So I went to Philips SmartTVs and could only find a general privacy notice, with no specific information relating to SmartTVs. LG’s privacy policy again is general, with no apparent specific information relating to SmartTVs and their potential.

I have contacted both companies to ask whether there is a more detailed supplement that makes their TVs capabilities clear.

LG was, however, embroiled in a privacy controversy in 2013, when its SmartTVswere accused of knowing too much. The company promised to change its policies.

At the heart of all this is, of course, trust. The best and only defense against intrusion from the likes of Google to Samsung is this: “We don’t really care about your private life. We just want your data, so that we can make money from it.”

It’s inevitable that the more data that we put out, the more will be recorded and the more will be known about us by machines which are in the charge of people.

We have all agreed to this. We click on “I agree” with no thought of consequences, only of our convenience.

It isn’t just your TV that will listen and record. Soon, it’ll be everything that has a digital connection.

Photo: SamsungTomorrow



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