Maybe that smart television is getting a little too smart. The geeks at TechCrunch have been checking out the newest Samsung televisions with voice activated controls and discovered that the company’s privacy policies come with a warning you may have missed in the fine print. It’s true that the television can be commanded to do any number of things from the comfort of your couch just by talking to it (rather than going through the strenuous and time consuming process of picking up your universal remote and pushing a button) but you need to be aware that the TV is listening to what you say. All of what you say. And it’s not keeping the information to itself.
You can control your SmartTV, and use many of its features, with voice commands. If you enable Voice Recognition, you can interact with your Smart TV using your voice. To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service that converts speech to text or 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. 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.
As an Electronic Frontier Foundation activist pointed out earlier today, via Twitter, the concept of a TV screen that might be snooping on your private conversations — and thus broadcasting a chilling effect by inculcating self-censorship within its viewers — is straight out of George Orwell’s 1984
You might be thinking, Big Deal. Siri does the same thing, right? As VodkaPundit observes, that’s not a valid comparison at all.
I’ve been happily using “Hey, Siri” to give instructions to my iPhone since the feature debuted last year, having it do everything from change music playlists to send messages to my wife. So maybe you think I’m the wrong guy to criticize Samsung’s voice commands.
But: iOS devices listen for spoken commands only when plugged in to a power source, and each command must be prefaced with “Hey, Siri.” From there, iOS anonymizes and encrypts your voice command before sending it only to a first party — Apple’s Siri servers. Apple never receives any personal data directly, much less someone unnamed third party.
To recap: Siri only listens when plugged in, you must wake her with a specific voice command, no third party is given your data, and your data is sent anonymously and protected by encryption. That’s a whole lot of protection going on.
Stephen is correct. Assuming that Apple isn’t lying to you (I know… I know…) there are many layers of protection in place for your privacy when using Siri. That television is just sitting there all day long listening to everything you say and seeing if it picks up on something which might be a command. And to help it figure out what may or may not be important, it’s exporting the things you say out across the web to not only Samsung but to some third party vendor as well.
Am I being paranoid yet again? Maybe. But as the man said, just because you’re paranoid, that doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. I simply can’t see putting one of these in my house, and if the price of that is that I must continue on with the backbreaking labor of pushing the buttons on my remote, that’s just a burden I’ll have to bear. But for those of you who do get one, the possibilities might include all sorts of fun. I’m reminded of the episode of Friends where the gang breaks into Monica’s rich boyfriend’s apartment and when one of them says, “call mom” the television turns on and initiates a video conference to his mother’s house.
As a bonus, one of these days the NSA may slap Samsung’s third party vendor with a warrant wanting to hear what’s been said in your living room for the last month. Not only will that save taxpayer dollars on breaking in and installing a microphone themselves, it should be a real hoot when you tell the story to your lawyer.