Are Samsung SmartTVs Listening in on Your Conversations?

samsungsmarttvThis week, TV watchers everywhere flashed back to reading George Orwell’s 1984 in high school when The Daily Beast spotted some alarming fine print in the Samsung TV privacy agreement.

Samsung’s Internet-compatible SmartTV boasts some impressive voice-recognition technology that allows users to control its functions with simple voice commands. But words like “Turn on TiVo” and “lower volume” may not be the only thing your television hears.

The Samsung policy warns SmartTV users to “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.”

The writer at The Daily Beast who spotted the wording theorized that some of the commands are being filtered through a third-party speech-to-text service to improve the accuracy of the SmartTV’s voice interpretation software.

Samsung’s privacy policy confirms that the third party is used to “capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features.”

Still, it’s enough to make anyone pause and think twice when near an internet compatible television.

“There’s nothing really new here,” says Bob Wallace, President, “Voice commands have been built into specialized universal remote for decades. They never caught on with the general public, but work nicely for the physically challenged. Now voice recognition is built into internet compatible SmartTVs. It’s no different than the voice-to-text service most smart phones use. If the thought of someone listening to your idle conversation bothers you, turn the feature off, but don’t try this with a universal remote. It is very unlikely that any universal remote control will have the correct buttons you’ll need to find and disable the voice command feature.”

So does this mean that your credit card number could be stolen as you mumble it to yourself while typing in an online order, or that some speech-to-text worker will overhear a personal conversation with your partner? CNET reached out to Samsung for comment.

According to a Samsung spokesperson, Samsung takes the privacy of its consumers seriously, and includes measures like data encryption to keep unauthorized users from collecting personal information from SmartTV sets.

The spokesperson added that the voice data collected consists only of search sentences and TV commands, and that users can tell if the voice recognition feature is active by watching for a microphone icon on the screen.