There’s been quite a lot of coverage in the UK media overnight regarding the supposed ability for Samsung Smart TV’s to listen in to our private conversations. It all makes great headlines I guess, but after being prompted to comment on BBC Radio Suffolk about the story, we decided to look into the matter a bit more closely.
- Voice Recognition
- 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.
- If you do not enable Voice Recognition, you will not be able to use interactive voice recognition features, although you may be able to control your TV using certain predefined voice commands. 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.
- 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.
Again, we looked into the technology behind the TV and found the that these specific Smart TV’s work in two modes of operations
1) The viewer can operate basic features of the TV by saying ‘Hi TV’ out loud. The TV wakes up and can be told to “Change Channel”, “Volume Up” etc. These commands are very basic and no online communication takes place at all.
2) This mode of operation can only be triggered by depressing the ‘Mic’ button on the remote control. whilst depressed, the view can ask natural language questions such as ‘What shall I watch tonight?’. It is at this point that your words are being recorded, when you finish talking those words are transmitted securely to third party natural language translation company Nuance (You might have heard of Nuance as they make the very popular dictation software Dragon Naturally Speaking). Upon arrival at Nuance’s servers, the spoken phrase in converted to text, the recording discarded and the text returned back to the TV for processing. Using a 3rd party means that the accuracy of the translation is much higher and less errors are likely to come about due to difference accents or dialects being used.
So, put simply. Unless someone with very advanced decryption abilities is permanently listening in to your internet connection on the vain hope that you might (whilst asking your TV to find you something to watch) divulge some deeply private secret, the chances of any kind of security breach is very low indeed.
I contacted Samsung for comment and a spokesperson issued the following statement:-
Samsung takes consumer privacy very seriously and our products are designed with privacy in mind. We employ industry-standard security safeguards and practices, including data encryption, to secure consumers’ personal information and prevent unauthorized collection or use.
Voice recognition, which allows the user to control the TV using voice commands, is a Samsung Smart TV feature, which can be activated or deactivated by the user. 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.
If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature, voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search to execute the command. 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.
Samsung encourages consumers to contact the company directly with any product concerns or questions.
So, should we be concerned? Well, yes we should always be concerned about our privacy and where possible take every step we see fit to ensure it is maintained. We are at constant threat of having our privacy interfered with under the veil of protection by companies and possibly governments, so we should shown caution.
However, an obvious legal statement to protect a manufacturer from litigation is perfectly acceptable in our over litigious world and I think in this case, it has been taken out of context.
I would be very interested in what you think, so please feel free to comment as you see fit.