Home Samsung: We’re Not Spying On You Through TVs, Promise

Samsung: We’re Not Spying On You Through TVs, Promise

To anyone concerned about Samsung smart TVs surveilling you in your house, the company has one message for you: Settle down, people. 

Samsung is not spying on you, it promises—even if the language in the electronics giant’s privacy policy seems disconcerting.

A report from The Daily Beast last weekend headlined “Your Samsung SmartTV Is Spying on You, Basically” pointed out a rather unsettling tidbit in Samsung’s privacy policy: “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.”

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. 

Private Eyes

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:

Well, at least it’s better than Apple’s privacy policy for its own software, which doesn’t even mention Siri or voice features at all. 

Photos by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Get the biggest tech headlines of the day delivered to your inbox

    By signing up, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy. Unsubscribe anytime.

    Tech News

    Explore the latest in tech with our Tech News. We cut through the noise for concise, relevant updates, keeping you informed about the rapidly evolving tech landscape with curated content that separates signal from noise.

    In-Depth Tech Stories

    Explore tech impact in In-Depth Stories. Narrative data journalism offers comprehensive analyses, revealing stories behind data. Understand industry trends for a deeper perspective on tech's intricate relationships with society.

    Expert Reviews

    Empower decisions with Expert Reviews, merging industry expertise and insightful analysis. Delve into tech intricacies, get the best deals, and stay ahead with our trustworthy guide to navigating the ever-changing tech market.