An Orwellian Nightmare Realized: Samsung Admits Your TV is “Listening”

by Matt Klassen on February 12, 2015

Your television is listening. That’s the warning out of Samsung this week, with the Korean tech giant cautioning users regarding discussing personal information in front of the TV if the Voice Recognition feature has been activated. When the feature is active, Samsung’s privacy policy explains, the television is able to “listen” to speech and such information could be shared with Samsung or unidentified third parties.

While the purpose of the Voice Recognition feature as part of Samsung’s Smart TVs is not to spy on users of course, this latent issue came to light recently as one online news magazine combed Samsung’s privacy policy, which clearly states that the TV records voice and other sounds in an effort to identify commands or queries. The policy goes on to state that Samsung shares command and query information (that is, the information the television has recorded) with third parties in an effort to make the television and the search results more applicable.

Purposeful or not, this is truly an Orwellian nightmare realized, and privacy advocates are up in arms regarding the ability for Samsung’s Smart TV sets to listen, record, and disseminate the content of what we say in its presence.

“If your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party,” Samsung’s privacy policy clearly states. While the onus is always on the user to be aware of the abilities of the technology used, the difficult thing is that problematic lines such as this one are often buried in pages and pages of legal jargon, something few of us laymen have the patience for after unwrapping a brand new Smart TV.

This distressing revelation was discovered by online magazine the Daily Beast, and subsequently reported by the BBC. With privacy advocates and various other concerned parties quickly comparing Samsung’s “listening” Smart TVs with Orwell’s telescreens, which allowed Big Brother to spy on the public, Samsung responded to the claims, taking the same approach that every tech company takes when the nefarious abilities of their technology comes to light: blaming the user.

In response to the outcry regarding its privacy policy Samsung issued a statement to clarify how the voice recognition technology works, emphasizing in part that the voice feature is activated using the TV’s remote control, and thus the responsibility for the feature being on and recording speech is solely that of the user.

Samsung said: “If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature, voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search. At that time, the voice data is sent to a server, which searches for the requested content then returns the desired content to the TV.”

Samsung also assured users that it doesn’t retain or sell the audio captured, but gave no indication if the voice data was collected securely, or whom the third parties are that the information was sent to. Further, Samsung clarified that users should always know if the voice recognition feature is active, because a microphone icon is clearly visible.

Now we’d be foolish to think that information about our search or command queries was safe, as recording and analyzing such information is what makes our Smart TVs and smartphones actually ‘smart.’ But this is clearly something above and beyond what we should reasonably expect our devices to do. So if nothing else this Orwellian nightmare should serve as yet another reminder that our favourite gadgets don’t care about us, they don’t serve us, and ultimately the cooler the gadgets are, the more likely they are to actually be betraying us to their real technological masters.

Did you like this post ? TheTelecomBlog.com publishes daily news, editorial, thoughts, and controversial opinion – you can subscribe by: RSS (click here), or email (click here).

Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: