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The Resource Center Identity Theft & Protection The Resource Center | article

Samsung Voice-Activated Televisions May Be Eavesdropping On You

Samsung caused an uproar over privacy concerns with the release of the new internet-connected Smart line of television sets that use voice-activation technology. These televisions are able to listen to conversations in the room to pick up on voice activation orders delivered through the remote control.

Samsung's new line of televisions can collect customer voice data and transmit it to a third-party company.

Samsung’s new line of televisions can collect customer voice data and transmit it to a third-party company.

Users were surprised and anxious to read the updated version of the company’s privacy policy, which included a vague announcement that Samsung could collect verbal data through the TV set’s voice recognition feature.

“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information,” read the statement, “that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.”

Samsung later clarified its statement, saying that the televisions collect voice data only after a user has clicked the activation button and is speaking directly into a microphone that comes embedded in the set’s remote control. Additionally, the company said that users would always be able to tell if the voice activation and recording feature was turned on, because a microphone icon would appear on the screen.

Samsung officials also noted that voice data would never be saved or sold for any reason by the third-party company, and that customers are free to deactivate the voice recognition features on their device. However, they did not say how long the data would be stored before being erased, and users are apparently unable to erase their own data from the device.

The company also elaborated on the process of transferring the data collected from the television sets.

“If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature,” the company said in a statement, “voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search. At that time, the voice data is sent to a server, which searches for the requested content then returns the desired content to the TV.”

After continued pressure from intellectual property and digital rights groups, Samsung confirmed that the third party translating the speech into text is a firm called Nuance, which specializes in voice recognition technology.

Samsung is not the only business trying out this technology. In fact, Amazon has developed its own voice-triggered device, the Amazon Echo, which can be activated with either the push of a button or a verbal “wake” word. The device comes with instructions for customers on how to delete their recordings, should they choose to do so.

In late 2013, an IT consultant in the United Kingdom found out that his LG television set was transmitting information about his viewing habits. LG later released a software update allowing viewers to choose whether or not they wanted their viewing history shared.

Although your television probably isn’t spying on you, this is a good reminder to always be aware of vulnerable areas in your life where you might suffer a security breach. Maintaining vigilant identity protection involves staying updated on situations like these, wherein private conversations becomes a matter of public record.

Remember that it doesn’t take much information to expose you to identity theft, and sometimes it’s the simplest precautions that can protect you from crime.