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Samsung updates its scary big brother always-listening TV policy

by Brandon Russell | February 10, 2015February 10, 2015 6:00 pm PDT

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Samsung hears your concerns—literally. The company’s Smart TVs have been listening to your boring conversations, and following backlash over its Orwellian snooping, Samsung has become a little more transparent about the nefarious practice. You know, in the name of Trust.

Before, Samsung’s privacy policy shared some eerie similarities to a particularly frightening passage in George Orwell’s famous novel, 1984. But the wording has been edited to clear up any confusion. Below is the original policy:

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.

What had people up in arms was the fact that the previously-unknown third party could potentially have access to private information. So if you blurted out important passwords while using Samsung’s voice recognition technology, the third party would seemingly have free and unfettered access.

But because Samsung “takes consumer privacy very seriously,” it’s making very clear how Voice Activation works, and where your information goes. The company reminds us that Voice Recognition features are only activated when you physically press a button on the remote. When a user request is made—e.g., “Recommend a movie”—that “interactive voice command” is then transmitted to Nuance Communications, which then processes the command “to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you.”

The policy also reads, “In addition, Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that [Samsung] can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features.”

Your Samsung Smart TV offers more basic voice recognition technology, such as asking the TV to adjust the channel and volume. But these requests aren’t sent off to a third party. “Voice data is neither stored nor transmitted in using these predetermined commands,” Samsung’s policy says.

For more complex and “interactive voice commands,” however, that information is most definitely forwarded to Nuance; Samsung isn’t hiding this fact. It’s unclear, however, if Samsung Smart TV users are subject to Nuance’s own privacy policy, which TechCrunch points out says any information gathered is subject to advertising and marketing.

Either way, I’d say it’s best not to talk to your TV (or any technology, unless a human is on the other line). Have we really become so reliant on the convenience technology offers that we need to verbally ask it to recommend movies? Please just ask a friend, or maybe call a hotline for suggestions.

The larger question, though, is who in their right mind uses Smart TV functionality? I have a perfectly lovely Panasonic TV, but the smart TV functionality is dreadful; a problem remedied by a Roku, or, if I’m feeling up to it, my PlayStation 4. I’m not on speaking terms with either.


Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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