Samsung Smart TV: The TV That Knew Too Much

February 09, 2015
By: Steve Anderson

A recent development has some users looking askance at new smart TV purchases, particularly if that smart TV is manufactured by Samsung (News - Alert) (News - Alert) manufacture. While this particular lineup has plenty of exciting features, some of the features—as well as the privacy policy information around said features—are proving to be just a bit more hair-raising than some of the content shown therein.

Specifically, the privacy policy points to a few choice passages that are likely to unnerve: the smart TV's voice recognition systems are, as expected, able to “...capture voice commands and associated text so that [Samsung] can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features.” That part isn't so bad—in fact, many likely expected such a thing to come up—but the rest of it is proving cause for concern. Of particular concern to many here is the passage which 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.”

Samsung, of course, follows that up with an important caveat, but quickly shoots the caveat itself in the foot with a little extra. The caveat in question: “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.” A spokesperson for Samsung even offered further cause for alarm, saying Samsung “...does not retain voice data, or sell it to third parties. If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature, voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search."

This raises some key issues almost immediately. Samsung notes that it doesn't collect speech, but noted that the third parties get it instead. What's more, given that so many devices are turning to voice commands, it's prompting users to wonder just what devices are listening, when, and what said devices are doing with what such devices overhear? This alone might be bad enough for some, but when viewed in the context of overall technological development, concerns aren't so much allayed as such are reinforced.

The rise of technology that puts voice commands to work is concerning enough for some, but others—particularly technological greats like Bill Gates (News - Alert), Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking—see it as only a part of the issue. Couple the rise of voice command technology with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and a host of new issues emerge. It's one thing for technology to gather everything that's said and retransmit it; what happens when the technology can apply critical thinking, even in a rudimentary fashion, to what's been said? How long until innocent conversations about movies prompt visits from police because some AI put two and two together and got trouble?

New technologies, almost inevitably, have issues to some degree. Systems don't work quite the way expected, or even intended, and that prompts the changes that make future versions more stable and better able to work as planned. But it's clear that the smart TV system—particularly with voice controls—needs some augmentation of its own to make it not only useful for users, but also keep it from being a disaster because someone read off a bank account number or the like in the same room as the television. Users need protected, and systems need to be valuable. That's technology in a nutshell, and Samsung clearly has some work to do.




Edited by Maurice Nagle