Samsung Smart TV Listens; Data Shared 'Third Party'

John Lister's picture

Samsung has caused outrage after careful examination of its Smart TV terms and conditions suggest it might listen in on conversations and then pass on details to a data collection agency. The company insists any chat that the television does overhear would be treated with the utmost confidence.

The controversy involves Samsung's range of televisions that include an Internet connection for features, such as online video access. Some models also include the ability for users to control the television using voice commands, rather than by remote control.

Samsung says it may transmit the audio of voice commands to a third party service for two reasons. The first is to use recognition services to figure out what the user was saying. The second is to keep track of how well the feature is working, and whether it could be improved in specific areas.

Sensitive Information Could Be Transmitted

The line in the company's privacy warning that is raising the alarm reads: "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." (Source:

It appears some of the panic may be down to Samsung's unclear wording, rather than it's privacy practices. The company insists it only gathers voice data when the feature is in use, which is represented when a microphone icon is displayed on screen.

The system isn't set to permanently listen to the audio in the room. Instead, any personal conversations would only be collected by accident. An example would be if a user said something immediately after issuing a voice command, which may be too soon for the system to realize the commands had finished.

Samsung Vows No Data Sold to Third Parties

Samsung has stressed that it encrypts the data it collects and does not sell any voice data to third parties. It has now confirmed that the "third party" referred to in the privacy warning is Nuance, a company that provides voice recognition services. (Source:

According to Samsung, users can switch off Voice Recognition data collection, or disable the feature altogether in settings menus. If they do so, they won't be able to use the interactive feature that learns a user's preferred commands, such as switching to a specific channel. However, even with the voice recognition feature switched off, users may be able to use some basic, pre-determined voice commands.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think the revelations are a serious privacy concern, or has the discovery of the warning been overblown? Do you use voice control features on any of your gadgets? Are you worried about audio collected by your devices being passed on to third parties?

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Dennis Faas's picture

Voice recognition technology is great and makes life simple. The flip side of the coin is that this type of technology can be abused by third parties. For example: hackers may one day be able to manipulate the Smart TV by remote and listen in, even if you've shut off the feature. They might even hack the agencies responsible for collecting data and extract millions of conversations all at once. Or, it could be that spy agencies may intercept the conversations en route to third parties, then crack the encrypted data it contains using super computers. These all theoretical scenarios, but also very likely.

LouisianaJoe's picture

The news media has not reported that the feature can be turned off. My question is: Is the feature turned on by default?

Also, I do not connect my TV to the internet.

philipreeves46's picture

I recently bought Dragon Naturally Speaking from Nuance. In my opinion voice recognition software still has to get much better before I will buy any appliance operated as such. Dragon made so many mistakes, I'd rather type.

matt_2058's picture

The technology is great, as it is with many improvements in other areas. The downfall is the additional uses for revenue. Once those hooks are set, I begin to lose interest. Once the new tech smell wears off, the sale of collected data is a revenue stream most companies don't pass up.

In this situation, Samsung could easily put the system on a chip in the TV and eliminate transmission of audio. Shoot, they could even have a dictionary for the commands and have the user speak the commands to record the nuances of the voices (hahaha). There is absolutely no need to transmit recorded audio, much less any word that is not a supported command. In a case like this, the hackers don't need to get to Samsung. They have a better chance breaking into a supplier, whether it is Nuance or one of their supporters.

Your information will be compromised at some point...if it is collected. Even in a doctor-patient situation, I have not seen 'permission to treat' paperwork that doesn't include data collection permission for the sake of research. Eventually someone in an office somewhere lets some info out for personal gain.

The only way to curb it is a heavy hand when it comes to losing people's info. It cost me about 4 hours to deal with a cancelled card and automatic payments. Did Home Depot even have a penalty for their massive breach of 53 million cards and 76 million addresses and phone numbers?