Samsung Is Listening


Introducing the full 1080p Samsung Telescreen:

The potential privacy intrusion of voice-activated services is massive. Samsung, which makes a series of Internet connected TVs, has a supplementary privacy policy covering its Smart TVs which includes the following section on voice recognition (emphasis mine):

You can control your SmartTV, and use many of its features, with voice commands. If you enable Voice Recognition, you can interact with your Smart TV using your voice. To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service that converts speech to text or to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you. In addition, Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. 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.

As an Electronic Frontier Foundation activist pointed out earlier today, via Twitter, the concept of a TV screen that might be snooping on your private conversations — and thus broadcasting a chilling effect by inculcating self-censorship within its viewers — is straight out of George Orwell’s 1984.


I’ve been happily using “Hey, Siri” to give instructions to my iPhone since the feature debuted last year, having it do everything from change music playlists to send messages to my wife. So maybe you think I’m the wrong guy to criticize Samsung’s voice commands.

But: iOS devices listen for spoken commands only when plugged in to a power source, and each command must be prefaced with “Hey, Siri.” From there, iOS anonymizes and encrypts your voice command before sending it only to a first party — Apple’s Siri servers. Apple never receives any personal data directly, much less someone unnamed third party.

To recap: Siri only listens when plugged in, you must wake her with a specific voice command, no third party is given your data, and your data is sent anonymously and protected by encryption. That’s a whole lot of protection going on.

According to the company’s own privacy policy, Samsung offers zero such protections. And yet it gets even worse:

If the SmartTV owner does realize how ridiculous this is, Samsung does at least allow them to disable the eavesdropping voice recognition ‘feature’, and instead use a more limited set of predefined ‘voice commands’ — and in that instance says it does not harvest their spoken words.

However it will still gather usage info and any other text-based inputs for data mining purposes, as it also notes further down in the policy. So an entire opt-out of being tracked is not part of this very expensive package. [Emphasis added]


I wouldn’t have one of these things in my house if Samsung paid me.


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