Samsung Warns Not To Divulge ‘Sensitive Information’ Around Eavesdropping, Voice-Activated Smart TVs

As we bring Internet-connected devices into our homes, it’s becoming more important than ever to read the fine print that accompanies them. Armed with cameras and mics, many of our home entertainment devices are capable of sending bits of our (seemingly private) home life to third parties. And certain Samsung smart HDTVs, it turns out, might accidentally do exactly that. But fear not: it’s not likely to happen, and you can easily ensure that it never will.

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Samsung at CES.

The issue came to light in Samsung’s Smart TV Supplement for its privacy policy. The policy starts off with the usual statements about what info you’ll be sharing with Samsung when you use the HDTV’s features: applications you access through Smart TV panels, anything you Like or Dislike via the TV, your purchases, etc. “If you enable Voice Recognition, you can interact with your Smart TV using your voice,” the statement says.

Then, things get weird. “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.”

In other words, under very specific circumstances your TV might pick up things you say and send them to people that Samsung hasn’t identified. And thus, people are freaking out and the 1984 comparisons have been trotted onto Twitter

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Samsung at ShowStoppers during CES 2105.

But how likely is a third-party to wind up with juicy conversations from your living room? Not very likely, I’ll wager.  First, you’d need to enable the Voice Recognition feature. You don’t have to, and in fact you can give some voice commands without it. But if you enable Voice Recognition, and speak commands or searches, the words you say at that time could go to third parties – and if you are having a conversation with someone else, it sounds like bits of what you say to that person could also get snapped up by your listening TV. So don’t discuss your sex life while giving your TV voice commands, and you’ll probably be in the clear. 

Or, just don't enable Voice Recognition.

It’s not that people don’t have a right to be creeped out by a TV’s voice collection capabilities – they do. It raises some serious security concerns – not the least of which is that, as we bring more of these listening-capable TVs, speakers, and other devices into our homes, are we setting ourselves up to be spied on by overzealous government agencies or hackers? But when it comes to Samsung, it seems to be fairly straightforward about what its TV can do, and the circumstances in which your conversation could get snatched seem pretty unlikely. 

If the idea still gives you the heebie-jeebies, check out the clarification email
 (which points out that an icon appears when the TV is listening to your voice) that Samsung sent to Tech Crunch before you start looking for your hammer.