The PJ Tatler

Oh Great -- Now Your TV Can Spy On You, Too

You knew this was coming:

Samsung is warning customers about discussing personal information in front of their smart television set. The warning applies to TV viewers who control their Samsung Smart TV using its voice activation feature.

Such TV sets “listen” to some of what is said in front of them and may share details they hear with Samsung or third parties, it said. Privacy campaigners said the technology smacked of the telescreens, in George Orwell’s 1984, which spied on citizens. The warning came to light via a story in online news magazine the Daily Beast which published an excerpt of a section of Samsung’s privacy policy for its net-connected Smart TV sets.

The policy explains that the TV set will be listening to people in the same room to try to spot when commands or queries are issued via the remote. It goes on to say: “If your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.”

Wow. Here’s the link to the Daily Beast story, which has lots more details:

Judging by the privacy policy, it seems Samsung is collecting voice commands mostly to improve the TV’s performance. “It looks like they are using a third-party service to convert speech to text, so that’s most of what is being disclosed here,” said Corynne McSherry, the intellectual property director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. So this may just be an effort to make your SmartTV smarter.

But, said McSherry, “If I were the customer, I might like to know who that third party was, and I’d definitely like to know whether my words were being transmitted in a secure form.” If the transmission is not encrypted, a SmartHacker could conceivably turn your TV into an eavesdropping device.

Samsung didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

How about that. Well, you can always do what I do — and not have a TV at all. Believe me, you’ll be much happier that way.