Samsung is acknowledging that owners of its internet-connected ‘smart TV’ may have their personal conversations recorded and shared with the company. The Samsung smart televisions are voice activated, so users can switch channels or ask for suggestions of what to watch simply by giving a verbal command. The technology responds to commands but also records everything else that goes on near the television.

The Voice Recognition feature once enabled by the user, will track viewers’ conversations when they accept the TV’s terms and conditions. Samsung said it sends voice commands, ‘along with information about [the] device, including device identifiers’ to a third-party service.

A clause in the Korean firm’s privacy policy warns: ‘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.’

For example, record a family argument going on in the living room. Companies that use the televisions in boardrooms risk sharing confidential information such as employees’ salaries or business strategies.

Privacy campaigners drew comparisons between the TVs and ‘Big Brother’ – the authoritarian state which watches people’s every move in 1984, the dystopian novel by George Orwell.

The company argues that its televisions constantly listen out for simple commands to switch on or change channel, which are interpreted by the machine itself. However, it can only process more complicated requests by recording users’ speech and sending it to a third-party company called Nuance, in the US. That firm then sends the data to a computer server, which translates it into text and sends a response.

To give these complex commands, viewers must press a button on the remote control as they speak, and during that time, anything within ‘earshot’ will be collected. The data is encrypted, but can be listened to by authorized Nuance staff.

The technology giant remained tight-lipped about whether it then keeps users’ data, only saying that it does not sell information on, and that it operates within privacy laws, which vary by country.
Its privacy policy says that, if the feature is turned off: ‘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.’

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