No, Samsung’s Smart TVs Do Not Spy on Your Conversations

In early 2015, Samsung has discovered the damage that a poorly worded phrase can cause. The privacy policy of its Smart TVs said (translation):

Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through the Speech Recognition use.

The Internet and discovered theories began to emerge mixed with doses (justified, I would say) revolt. In no time someone drew the parallel with 1984, the famous dystopian novel by George Orwell – and there was worse.

For reasons that escape me it returned to circulate on social networks now, a year after the scandal( One of the original posts of the controversy , the BBC, February 5 201). Outside the timing or not, is a good opportunity to revisit the subject and understand what actually happens.

Your TV Can Hear You – and All Is Well

These voice information can be transmitted and are even, but not for nefarious purposes. It is not the objective of Samsung know the gossip told in the TV room; collecting, sending and processing of what is spoken has a very specific goal, which is to enable and enhance voice commands to control the TV.

A few years ago that not only Samsung, but several manufacturers allow this type of interaction. Because not all have expertise or infrastructure to collect and process on their own the avalanche of data that use generates, specialized third parties are hired. This is the case of Samsung.

Note that, today, with personal assistants present in many devices, this type of collection and analysis recurs. The Apple’s Siri, Google Now, the Cortana and the Xbox One from Microsoft, Alexa Amazon, all work with voice commands to work even better, without requiring us to change the syntax of natural language for a list of robotic predetermined commands, analyze what is spoken.

All of these, including the Samsung TV, also have another similarity: they are not recording the audio around continuously. Each system has a keyword that triggers the “ears” virtual assistant/voice recognition system. It is the “Ok Google” Google, or “Hey Siri” Apple. In the case of Smart Samsung TVs, “Hi TV” (obviously in English, do not know how it works in Brazil).

There was a justification, little commented during the protests last year, but relevant in this matter. A privacy policy is a serious document that regulates the company limits in the relationship with the customer. Although Samsung did not practice this constant surveillance, the mere fact that it is provided in politics was bad. The pressure, though for the wrong reason, has paid off and today, the policy brings a very different text :

You can control your Smart TV and many of its functions via voice command.

If you enable the voice recognition function, you can interact with your Smart TV using your voice. To provide the voice recognition feature to you, some voice commands can be transmitted (along with information about your device, including but not limited to, device identification) to a service provider (now Nuance Communications, Inc.) that converts voice to text and a file format that is necessary for the operation of the voice Recognition feature. In addition, Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts to provide you the Voice Recognition feature, as well as evaluate and improve this feature. Samsung will collect your voice command only when you perform a search Smart TV, activating this function by remote control or the screen and talking into the microphone of your remote control.

If you do not enable Voice Recognition, you can not use Speech Recognition feature, although you can control your TV using pre-defined specific voice controls.

You can disable the data collection Voice Recognition feature at any time by logging in the “settings” menu. However, this may prevent you from using some of the Voice Recognition capabilities.

Technology companies can be cruel and compactuarem with some reprehensible practices, but in this case it was just a writing failure.