A display of S' UHD 4K TV from Samsung are seen at the Consumer Electronics Show, January 8, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nevada
A display of S' UHD 4K TV from Samsung are seen at the Consumer Electronics Show, January 8, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nevada

Samsung smart TV policy allows company to listen in on users

Policy has been compared to George Orwell's 1984

Andrew Griffin
Monday 09 February 2015 09:50
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The new privacy policy for Samsung’s smart TVs allows the company and its partners to listen in on everything their users say.

The policy has drawn the ire of internet users, who compared it with George Orwell’s dystopian fiction 1984.

While voice recognition software almost always transmits data on what users are saying — so that the job of decoding it can be done by quicker computers elsewhere — the combination of sending the data to third-parties and the comparison with Orwell has meant that the Samsung policy has drawn particular attention.

The policy states: “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.”

It makes clear that the tool can be turned off through settings, though that will stop the voice recognition working entirely and Samsung will still continue to collect data about how people use the TV.

“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,” the policy states.

It bears similarities to the telescreens used in 1984, as pointed out by Twitter user and Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Parker Higgins.

In that book, Orwell writes: “Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by [the screen], moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard.

“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork.”

A Samsung statement said that data is encrypted to keep it safe, and that owners can disconnect the TV from wifi if they want to keep their data safe. Users can tell when the feature is activated because a microphone appears on screen.

Many saw the policy as a warning about the internet of things — the new trend towards internet-enabled devices in the home — which some say could allow companies to collect more data on its users than ever before.

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