Samsung Listens to Its Smart TVs

By Norbert Hildebrand
Samsung voice control
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Smart TVs have been all the rage recently and together with 4k/UHD technology are seen as the high end technology available in today’s TV sets. Some see smart TVs as one of the reasons for the recent recovery of the TV market. The smart TV followed on from devices like Roku and Apple TV and offered a different TV experience to the consumer. All the leading TV makers included enhanced features in their smart TVs, including Samsung.

With Apple introducing voice control with its Siri technology, it was only a question of time before such features were also used in TV sets. Some of Samsung’s smart TVs include a function it calls ‘Voice Interaction’. This function allows the user to control their TV with voice commands.

Source: Samsung

The voice control feature allows for control of typical TV functions, but also allows access to more complex commands by transmitting the recorded voice over the internet for analysis. This is standard practice for Apple as well as other voice control solutions and raises the question of what firms are doing with that information.

Samsung added a smart TV supplement to its privacy policy to address such questions of privacy. According to Samsung its “SmartTV services offer features that may enhance video content, customised TV, movie, and other content recommendations, connections to social networking services, and the ability to control and interact with your SmartTV with gestures and voice commands. We collect, use, share, and store information through your SmartTV in the ways described in the Samsung Privacy Policy”.

Sasmung continues that “some voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service that converts speech to text or 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. 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”.

In other words, Samsung admits to listening to its smart TVs (and their owners) using the voice control feature. However, Samsung addressed recent privacy concerns by stating that the TV does not listen to any spoken words while the microphone button is not pressed. They also say that their third party provider is bound contractually to treat all received voice information under strict privacy rules.

To be clear, this is not any different to Apple/Siri or any other such voice control technology. It appears that people are not really being deterred by these privacy concerns. The biggest deterrent is most likely the price of the smart TVs offering such service. Some publications have compared this feature to the “Big Brother is watching you” outlined by George Orwell in his novel, 1984. In most countries, a listening device installed in someone’s home requires a court order, but, of course, if you install it yourself, that is a completely different story. I am not saying that Samsung is listening to your deepest secrets, but the part about the “third party” is alarming.

In addition, Samsung also offers a camera to add face recognition and gesture control to its top of the line smart TVs. In this case Samsung states that after “set up facial recognition, an image of your face is stored locally on your TV; it is not transmitted to Samsung”.

Analyst Comment

My personal concern is that smart TVs are more of a PC with a large display than the “dumb” TV of the past. Connecting a TV to the internet ( a prerequisite for any smart TV) makes it vulnerable to hacker attacks. Android is not the most secure OS available today. In addition, a TV typically does not come with an option for installing anti hacking measures other than what the TV maker envisioned.Norbert Hildebrand