Can My Smart TV Really Hear Me? Who’s Listening?!

3 min read
Aug 23, 2017

There was much ado in the news and on social media sites just two years ago when the versatile and seemingly “intelligent” Smart TVs were introduced to consumers. Shoppers cheerfully welcomed the tremendous number of ports and the opportunities for information sharing, viewing and manipulation that the Smart TV offers.

The new Smart TVs were promoted as large-screen, mirror thin, magical portals to basically anything. However, despite the rumors, news, and corporate acknowledgment this technology created, people around the world continue to discuss what investing in a Smart-TV really does. Questions about who is listening and how information is being used are very real concerns in 2016. This echoes far too closely the nightmarish TV image in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Is Big Brother watching? If so, should we love that?

What Data is Being Collected and Why?

Samsung uses voice recognition specialist Nuance Communications to process speech and return text results. Samsung clarified its privacy policy, but some Samsung Smart TVs were transmitting both voice data and the recognized text unencrypted across the internet, despite the company stating that all private data is encrypted. In effect, this leaves the viewer vulnerable to unwanted voyeurism. 

Samsung clarified that the personal information data collection is optional.Click To Tweet

Why wasn’t there full disclosure about the data collection capabilities and the intended use of that data? Why didn’t the designers and enterprise leaders disclose to shoppers that their smart devices were also recording devices?

Perhaps it’s because many people would not knowingly purchase a TV that is preset to record conversations, even if only part of an interpersonal conversation is recorded, monitored, organized and shared by a machine — and not a real person. Real people do have access to the data, though.

The explanation for why Smart TVs come preset to record keywords and phrases involves commerce — business and social interests — with the stated purpose of designing products and advertising campaigns that appeal to the owners of Smart TVs. The enterprise and corporate explanation, in short, is that people make these purchases in order to get more of what they want. Consumers, however, do not like that explanation and have pursued both legal and political actions to get better answers.

Samsung’s Smart TV Supplement and the Personal Privacy Option

In a response to consumer concerns, and although many other corporations are using similar smart technology, Samsung clarified that the personal information data collection is optional. The complete Samsung Personal Privacy – Smart TV Supplement is available online, and the portion below makes an effort to explain that the collection of personal data is an option that customers can refuse by adjusting Smart TV settings:

  1. “Please visit the “settings” menu of your Smart TV for choices that may be available to you if you do not wish to continue to receive personalized recommendations on your Smart TV. If you disable personalized recommendations, then the information and content displayed on your Smart TV may not be as relevant to you. Samsung may still collect information about your usage of the SmartTV for the purposes described in this Samsung Privacy Policy.”

It is important to note that Samsung states that it may collect personal information anyway, just less or different personal information. Consumers are purchasing Smart TVs at an ever-increasing rate, but they also continue to negotiate for clearer communication with enterprise corporations in the IT sector. The people demand privacy in the ever-expanding world of IoT — the internet of things.

Source List:

CES 2012 – Samsung Smart TV by The Conmunity – Pop Culture Geek is licensed under Attribution License

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