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Samsung TV’s voice function threatens to intrude customers’ privacy

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MUMBAI: SmartTV, Samsung’s recent innovation has a new voice-command feature, through which the internet-connected device can record everything one speaks and transmit it to a third party. 

The company's voice recognition software allows viewers to communicate with their television by talking to it. It is enabled when a microphone symbol appears. Instead of using a traditional remote control to change the channel, people can simply ask their Samsung TV to change it for them by uttering a few words.

This feature is worrying people, because of guidelines in their privacy policy. The Daily Beast first spotted this sentence, which reads, “If spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.”

The Daily Beast makes the point that if peoples’ living room conversations are being recorded and passed on, privacy is being undermined. Homes are supposed to be places in which families and friends can talk about anything and everything.

“Don't talk about tax evasion, drug use,” Beast warned.

Sensitive information, such as ‘device identifiers’ could potentially be passed to law enforcement, advertisers and other groups, according to Samsung. “If the transmission is not encrypted, a SmartHacker could conceivably turn your TV into an eavesdropping device,” the website adds.

It is important to note that the function operates in this way only when the voice recognition is turned on. But that feature is probably one of the main draws to the new technology. 

Responding to the criticism, the company said, “Samsung takes consumer privacy very 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 unauthorised 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.”

Similar concerns were also raised about Siri in the US. The service also transmits information to a third party.

The privacy policy for the company's Smart TV sets - which are on sale - advises users of the voice recognition feature that their spoken words will be “among the data captured and transmitted.”

Privacy campaigners have branded the policy “outrageous” and made comparisons to George Orwell's description of telescreens, which spied on citizens in his novel, 1984.

Privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch director Emma Car said, “Samsung needs to understand that not everyone wants to be spied on by their TV. Few people would expect a TV to intrude on our privacy, yet this is increasingly becoming the case.”

Samsung has insisted it takes customer privacy “very seriously” and any gathering of users’ information is carried out with the “utmost transparency.”

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