Beware of Samsung Smart TVs—Voice Recognition Could be Recording and Sharing your Private Conversations

Digital age has brought along countless blessings and conveniences for the consumers but there are quite a few dangers associated with the Internet of Things (IoT) that are hard to ignore.

Let’s take the example of this new discovery; the voice activation or voice recognition feature in Samsung smart TVs is, although very beneficial for entertainment buffs, does has its fair share of cons. Owners of their Smart TVs should be careful while making private conversations in front of their TVs if they use the voice activation feature. The reason… when this feature is enabled the TV set can “listen” to the audio and it might very well share it with third parties other than Samsung.How was it Discovered?

According to Samsung’s Privacy policy, Voice Recognition feature lets “user control the TV using voice commands.” Moreover, this feature “can be activated or deactivated by the user, the TV owner can also disconnect the TV from the Wi-Fi network” in a Samsung Smart TV.

We all came to know about the eavesdropping capabilities of Samsung Smart TVs via a story that was published last year. The story contained an excerpt from Samsung’s privacy policy regarding its Smart TV sets that could be connected to the internet. It was further stated that these television sets can record your conversations if a particular button is pressed on the remote control.

AS per the policy of Samsung, the voice activation feature relies on listening and identifying voice commands in order to operate. The policy clearly states: “If your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.”

Who would be the Third Party?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) intellectual property lawyer Corynne McSherry informs that the company offering the service of speech-to-text to Samsung could be the third party in this scenario. The EFF campaigns about issues related to digital rights.

McSherry also states that if she was the customer of Samsung, she might want to know who that “third party” was and if her “words were being transmitted in a secure form.”

It must be noted that the third party in question is a firm known as Nuance. It specializes in providing voice recognition technology and helps Samsung handle the speech to text translation in its products.


Samsung’s Response:

The excerpt of Samsung’s policy statement instantly became viral and was shared on the internet overwhelmingly. Thus, Samsung was forced to respond to this issue.

The company issued a statement in order to clarify its position regarding the way voice activation feature works. Samsung emphasized that this feature can only be activated if you turn it on using the remote control.

Samsung also stated that the reason behind narrating this fact in its privacy statement is that the company intends to remain transparent in its products and services and help the buyers make informed choices about using certain features. Samsung also mentioned that it takes consumer privacy policy quite “seriously.”

As per the company spokesperson “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.”

She added: “Should consumers enable the voice recognition capability, the voice data consists of TV commands, or search sentences, only. Users can easily recognize if the voice recognition feature is activated because a microphone icon appears on the screen.”

The company thus categorically denied that it retains voice data and shares or sells it after recording. Samsung also stated that the owner of their Smart TV would always know when the voice activation feature is turned on because the microphone icon will remain visible.

The Burning Issue of Smart TVs Eavesdropping:

For your information Samsung is not only one that is providing problem-laden, internet connectivity enabled Smart TVs. In 2013, a UK based IT consultancy firm discovered that LG TV was collecting information too. The issue received widespread publicity and thus, LG was pushed to release a software update to make sure that data collection feature remained disabled for those who didn’t want their information to be shared.

Similarly, devices like Nest capture our indoor conversations too. Probably the Internet of Things not just makes our lives easier and lazier but much less private too.

How to Avoid Predilections of Voice Recognition feature:

It is possible to enable a series of pre-defined voice commands but this will generate stipulations like:

“While Samsung will not collect your spoken word, Samsung may still collect associated texts and other usage data so that we can evaluate the performance of the feature and improve it.”

So you might want to try the option of switching off the voice recognition feature entirely. However, this won’t solve the issue either since it will pave way for another problem:

“You may disable Voice Recognition data collection at any time by visiting the ‘settings’ menu. However, this may prevent you from using all of the Voice Recognition features.”

So all you can do is Trust the company (pun intended) and be careful while using this feature. You need to be alert and make confidential conversation after disabling the feature of turning off the microphone icon on the remote control to avoid a breach of privacy.

Ryan De Souza

Ryan is a London-based member of the HackRead's Editorial team. A graduate of Maths and physics with a passion for geopolitics and human rights. Ryan places integrity at the pinnacle of successful journalism and believes this is somewhat lacking in traditional media. Ryan is an educator who balances his time between family, social activism and humanitarian causes and his vice is Football and cars.