The policy, posted on the Samsung website, contains a sentence that essentially warns viewers to be careful what they say in their own living rooms, lest the television’s voice commands function capture sensitive information and share it with undisclosed third parties.
“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,” the policy reads.
The sentence refers to a feature that allows users to interact with their Smart TVs by speaking, but the policy makes it clear that the feature, once enabled, may record more than simple voice commands; it may also pick up personal conversations.
The policy was uncovered Thursday by the Daily Beast, and quickly attracted criticism across social media. As of Monday morning, the topic was flooding Twitter to the tune of about 30 tweets per minute. Parker Higgins, a privacy activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, compared the policy to George Orwell’s “1984,” and tweeted out a pretty convincing side-by-side comparison:
â€” Parker Higgins (@xor) February 8, 2015
Amid the criticism, Samsung quickly issued a statement insisting that it takes consumer privacy seriously:
“In all of our Smart TVs 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. The TV owner can also disconnect the TV from the Wi-Fi network.”
Among privacy experts, the growing proliferation of smart devices has been sending up red flags for several years. Microsoft Corp. helped usher in the technology in 2010 with its Xbox Kinect, which included an ambient camera that faces out into people’s living rooms. Samsung introduced its own camera-enabled television at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2012. The following year, news broke that companies like Google Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. were reportedly working on set-top boxes that can record ambient actions such as movements and behaviors.
In response to growing privacy concerns, members of Congress in 2013 introduced a bipartisan bill that would require smart video devices to be opt-in, meaning consumers would have to grant explicit consent before companies could collect data. The bill, dubbed the “We Are Watching You Act,” never reached the floor.
Speaking with the Daily Beast Thursday, Corynne McSherry, the intellectual property director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Samsung should be more transparent in its practices, and at the very least, should disclose the third parties it shares the information with.