Is your TV a covert spy?

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By Scott Coulthart, Special Counsel

Recently, Samsung has warned its customers to be careful about what they say in front of their TV if they have it in voice recognition mode.

Samsung sells a smart TV set with a voice recognition feature which “hears” the words spoken around it and can interpret those as commands.

According to Samsung, the voice recognition function allows the TV to capture the sound of the spoken words and that then gets transmitted to a third party which (presumably electronically) converts those words in certain circumstances to commands to the TV to perform certain functions.

So much was evident from the documentation that comes with the TVs but the real hullaballoo began when Samsung changed its Privacy Policy to be sent out with those TVs, which began to include this sentence:

“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… 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”.

 Perhaps predictably, privacy advocates have been sent into a spin by all of this and are comparing Samsung’s policy with George Orwell’s description of telescreens which spied on citizens in the novel 1984.

However, Samsung’s response is simply that it takes consumer privacy very seriously and that it was appropriate therefore to change the policy so that people understand the risk that personal/sensitive information might be collect, albeit unintentionally, if they orally share sensitive information while the voice recognition feature is turned on.

The authors of some articles (like the one linked here) suggest that Samsung has been open about this so that it is covered legally if the third party gets “hacked”. However, it is important to remember that Samsung is bound by privacy legislation in Australia and in other countries, and certainly in Australia that includes the obligation to comply with all of the Australian Privacy Principles, which includes the requirement to disclose how Samsung may (unwittingly or otherwise) collect sensitive or personal information.

So, there is no need to panic, but don’t say anything sensitive in front of your TV, it could be listening.

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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