Samsung Smart TVs Listen to Private Conversations – Truth! & Misleading!

Samsung Smart TVs Listen to Private Conversations – Truth! & Misleading!

Summary of eRumor: 

Smart TVs made by Samsung secretly listen to your private conversations and spy on users.

The Truth:

It’s true that some Samsung smart TVs with voice recognition listen to and record users’ voices, including private conversations.

But the voice recognition technology has been misunderstood. It only “listens” for specific commands, and it only records voices when a button on the remote control is pushed, so it’s misleading to say that Samsung Smart TVs listen to private conversations.

The claim first surfaced when the news magazine The Daily Beast reported in February of 2015 that a sentence buried deep in a Samsung privacy policy opened the door for the company to spy on its users:

“Careful what you say around your TV. It may be listening. And blabbing.

A single sentence buried in a dense ‘privacy policy’ for Samsung’s Internet-connected SmartTV advises users that its nifty voice command feature might capture more than just your request to play the latest episode of Downton Abbey.

‘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 policy reads.”

The Daily Beast reported that the company’s goal appeared to be to “use a third-party service to convert speech to text” in an effort to improve Samsung’s voice recognition feature. But the privacy policy appeared to be overly broad.

For its part, Samsung said the privacy policy, and its voice recognition technology, had been misunderstood. The company updated its privacy policy and explained the technology in plain terms:

“Some Samsung Smart TVs offer voice recognitions functions. These functions are enabled only when users agree to the separate Samsung Privacy Policy and Terms of Use regarding this function when initially setting up the TV. Apart from initial setup, users are given the choice to activate or deactivate the voice recognition feature at any time.

Voice recognition takes place in two ways:

The first is through an embedded microphone inside the TV set that responds to simple predetermined TV commands such as changing the channel and increasing the volume. Voice data is neither stored nor transmitted in using these predetermined commands.

The second microphone, which is inside the remote control, requires interaction with a server because it is used for searching content. A user, for example, can speak into the remote control requesting the search of particular TV programs (ex: “Recommend a good Sci-Fi movie”). This interaction works like most any other voice recognition service available on other products including smartphones and tablets.”

So, a microphone inside the television may “listen” for predetermined keywords to complete commands like changing the channel or adjusting the volume — but it doesn’t record conversations. The updated privacy policy states that a second microphone inside the remote control will record and transmit conversations only when the “activation” button is pressed. The policy reads:

“To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some interactive voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service provider (currently, Nuance Communications, Inc.) that converts your interactive voice commands to text and 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. Samsung will collect your interactive voice commands only when you make a specific search request to the smart TV by clicking the activation button either on the remote control or on your screen and speaking into the microphone on the remote control.”

So, it’s true that Samsung smart TVs — and other brands of TVs with voice recognition — listen to and record user voices, but the claim that they “secretly” listen in is misleading.

Still, users who are still leery of the technology can always disable the voice activation feature entirely. Click here for step-by-step directions.