To anyone concerned about Samsung smart TVs surveilling you in your house, the company has one message for you: Settle down, people.
Sounds horrific, like something out of a dystopian sci-fi flick, except it governs the pricey big screen sitting in your living room.
When Words Get In The Way
The previous language in the policy came off like Samsung was listening to your private conversations and handing them over to other people or businesses at will.
Samsung denies eavesdropping or passing along transcripts of your private conversations. The third party referenced is Nuance, the maker of Dragon Naturally Speaking whose technology powers Siri. The system transmits the spoken user commands picked up the television’s microphone or the search terms uttered into a mic-equipped remote control, so it can be interpreted and translated into commands that the TV understands. Indeed, this is the way most voice controlled features—from Apple’s Siri to Samsung’s S Voice —works. (Google’s Google Now speech features rely on the company’s own proprietary technology.)
To set the public straight, Samsung has updated its language to offer a clearer idea of what happens to user data. A supplement to the policy now states:
To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some interactive voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service provider (currently, Nuance Communications, Inc.) that converts your interactive voice commands to text and 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. Samsung will collect your interactive voice commands only when you make a specific search request to the Smart TV by clicking the activation button either on the remote control or on your screen and speaking into the microphone on the remote control.
The company also mentioned that its microphone-equipped television listens for a specific set of basic commands, and the mic in its remote control works only when you hit a button to, say, speak a search term out loud. But, if that still creeps you out, you can shut off the voice features in the settings.
If anyone is at fault for whatever errant impressions there may be, it’s Samsung—not necessarily for the way its technology works, but for its troublingly vague disclosures.
Samsung’s methodology is actually common in all sorts of human-to-computer interfaces, not just voice.
For example, since Apple opened mobile software to third-party keyboards last year, the company updated its policy to caution users about the data they may give up to use them. Too bad most of them probably didn’t read it.
The terms refer people to the third-party app’s policy. Here’s what the pop-up from Swype, a popular iOS keyboard app, says:
Photos by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite