Samsung Warns Customers To Think Twice About What They Say Near Smart TVs

February 12, 2016   |   Jake Anderson

Jake Anderson
February 12, 2016

(ANTIMEDIA) In a troubling new development in the domestic consumer surveillance debate, an investigation into Samsung Smart TVs has revealed that user voice commands are recorded, stored, and transmitted to a third party. The company even warns customers not to discuss personal or sensitive information within earshot of the device.

This is in stark contrast to previous claims by tech manufacturers, like Playstation, who vehemently deny their devices record personal information, despite evidence to the contrary, including news that hackers can gain access to unencrypted streams of credit card information.

The new Samsung controversy stems from the discovery of a single haunting statement in the company’s “privacy policy,” which states:

“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.”

This sparked a back and forth between the Daily Beast and Samsung regarding not only consumer privacy but also security concerns. If our conversations are “captured and transmitted,” eavesdropping hackers may be able to use our “personal or other sensitive information” for identity theft or any number of nefarious purposes.

There is also the concern that such information could be turned over to law enforcement or government agencies. With the revelation of the PRISM program by which the NSA collected data from Microsoft, Google, and Facebook and other such NSA spying programs, neither the government nor the private sector has the benefit of the doubt in claiming tech companies are not conscripted into divulging sensitive consumer info under the auspices of national security.

Michael Price, counsel in the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, stated:

“I do not doubt that this data is important to providing customized content and convenience, but it is also incredibly personal, constitutionally protected information that should not be for sale to advertisers and should require a warrant for law enforcement to access.”

Responding to the controversy, Samsung updated its privacy policy, named its third party partner, and issued the following statement:

“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.”

Under still more pressure, Samsung named its third party affiliate, Nuance Communications. In a statement to Anti-Media, Nuance said:

“Samsung is a Nuance customer. The data that Nuance collects is speech data. Nuance respects the privacy of its users in its use of speech data. Our use of such data is for the development and improvement of our voice recognition and natural language understanding technologies. As outlined in our privacy policy, third parties work under contract with Nuance, pursuant to confidentiality agreements, to help Nuance tailor and deliver the speech recognition and natural language service, and to help Nuance develop, tune, enhance, and improve its products and services.

“We do not sell that speech data for marketing or advertising. Nuance does not have a relationship with government agencies to turn over consumer data…..There is no intention to trace these samples to specific people or users.”

Nuance’s Wikipedia page mentions that the company maintains a small division for government and military system development, but that is not confirmed at this time.

Despite protestations from these companies that our voice command data is not being traced to specific users or, worse, stored for use by government or law enforcement agencies, it seems that when it comes to constitutional civil liberties, the end zone keeps getting pushed further and further down the field.

For years, technologists and smart device enthusiasts claimed webcam and voice recording devices did not store our information. While Samsung may be telling the truth about the use of that data, there are countless companies integrating smart technology who may not be using proper encryption methods and may have varying contractual obligations to government or law enforcement.

Is it really safe for us to assume that the now exceedingly evident symbiotic relationship between multinational corporations and government agencies does not still include a revolving door for the sharing of sensitive consumer data?


This article (Samsung Warns Customers To Think Twice About What They Say Near Smart TVs) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Jake Anderson and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email edits@theantimedia.org.

Author: Jake Anderson

Jake Anderson joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in April of 2015. His topics of interest include social justice, science, corporatocracy, and dystopian science fiction. He currently resides in Escondido, California.

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68 Comments

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  2. Why the hell do TV manufactures put that in their systems if they are so worried about it.

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  3. Privacy: A redundant word now relegated to the archives of English language history.

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  4. Pitch your smart phone in the drawer and use a cheap prepaid.Unplug webcams when not in use.Have a old plasma tv works great,you don't need the latest and greatest.If you live simple lives you are less exposed.Pay cash on items you don't want an electronic trail on

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  5. John Porter, plasma TVs have been around since the early 1990's. "…plasma displays were the most popular choice for HDTV flat panel display as they had many benefits over LCDs. Beyond plasma's deeper blacks, increased contrast, faster response time, greater color spectrum, and wider viewing angle; they were also much bigger than LCDs…." (-Wikipedia) So if you want to avoid being spied on, yeah, best to use an old plasma TV and get the best picture quality while you're at it!.

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  6. And people want to have every appliiance and tool be smart. Just invite the NSA into your living room.

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  7. This was covered last year, and people went on a tirade about 'evil Samsung' stealing your information and sending to 3rd party companies, when really it's working exactly as expected. 3rd party apps such as Netflix using voice commands, of course Samsung need to send what you say to the 3rd party company or else the voice commands won't work. Another bullshit controversial news piece relying on the shock factor for views when really it's all working as expected, Samsung are just covering their asses by saying they can't control what 3rd party companies do with the voice commands you send to them. If people are that paranoid then don't get a smart TV

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  8. They aren't worried, they're simply stating that 3rd party apps that use voice commands obviously have to have the voice command sent to that company to process, Samsung are simply saying that they can't control what the 3rd party company do with the commands you send them or the content of that command… TV's are getting smarter and people are getting dumber.

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  9. Darling Damianton by who? Is it the lizard people? It's the lizard people isn't it?!

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  10. Darling Damianton by who? Is it the lizard people? It's the lizard people isn't it?!

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  11. Darling Damianton by who? Is it the lizard people? It's the lizard people isn't it?!

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  12. The headline art assures us that "Big Brother is Listening".
    That's kind of comforting: He must be a lot like Dr. Frazier Crane.

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  13. Alan Hill so who is the third party company and why aren't we negotiating a class action settlement to protect privacy. Simple enough.

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  14. Alan Hill so who is the third party company and why aren't we negotiating a class action settlement to protect privacy. Simple enough.

    Post a Reply
  15. John Porter I have a Philips 50inch plasma that was manufactured in 2001 (only SCART though!).

    Post a Reply
  16. John Porter I have a Philips 50inch plasma that was manufactured in 2001 (only SCART though!).

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  17. John Porter I have a Philips 50inch plasma that was manufactured in 2001 (only SCART though!).

    Post a Reply
  18. Can samsung just, I don't know, not capture the audio and send it to third partys? Is that not an option?

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  19. Can samsung just, I don't know, not capture the audio and send it to third partys? Is that not an option?

    Post a Reply
  20. Can samsung just, I don't know, not capture the audio and send it to third partys? Is that not an option?

    Post a Reply
  21. Can samsung just, I don't know, not capture the audio and send it to third partys? Is that not an option?

    Post a Reply
  22. Can samsung just, I don't know, not capture the audio and send it to third partys? Is that not an option?

    Post a Reply
  23. Jason Nemeth If you are stupid enough to think '1984' was 'fiction' then don't worry about anything else….You are already too fucked to help…

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  24. A 2 Billion dollar speech company that's aquired more companies than Google bothers me. This isn't just private sector. And it's Ray Kurzweil's baby(Google).

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  25. For people who value privacy, it's not bullshit to be vigilant when tech companies are collecting your private conversations. Let's learn from the NSA PRISM scandal….corporations are conscripted into sharing our data with the government. It's not a conspiracy theory, it's real.

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  26. For people who value privacy, it's not bullshit to be vigilant when tech companies are collecting your private conversations. Let's learn from the NSA PRISM scandal….corporations are conscripted into sharing our data with the government. It's not a conspiracy theory, it's real.

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  27. Jake Anderson Except for the vigilant part in that NONE OF THIS IS REAL NEWS. For ANY of this to be RELEVANT to you, you have to knowingly buy, and opt in to these companies products. They tell you what they are going to do at the BEGINNING and WE as consumers have to make the choice to LET them have it. That makes this scare tactics bullshit, not that privacy matters.

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  28. Jake Anderson Except for the vigilant part in that NONE OF THIS IS REAL NEWS. For ANY of this to be RELEVANT to you, you have to knowingly buy, and opt in to these companies products. They tell you what they are going to do at the BEGINNING and WE as consumers have to make the choice to LET them have it. That makes this scare tactics bullshit, not that privacy matters.

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  29. Samsung does not need to send what you say to a third party to get the voice commands to work. Even my old laptop uses voice commands when not connected to the internet. Lots of things are run by voice commands. There is never a need to send voice to any other apparatus or party to get your stuff
    to recognize and operate using voice commands.

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  30. Samsung does not need to send what you say to a third party to get the voice commands to work. Even my old laptop uses voice commands when not connected to the internet. Lots of things are run by voice commands. There is never a need to send voice to any other apparatus or party to get your stuff
    to recognize and operate using voice commands.

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  31. No samsung does not need to send what you say to a third party to getthe voice commands to run your system. Even old laptops work via voice commands disconnected from the internet. Either a system recognizes voice commands or it doesn't. Don't let anyone tell you your voice has to be run through a 3rd party.

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  32. Thats an over-simplification of the issue. Simple voice commands, yes. can be processed locally. A SIRI or Google Now type system? No…

    I'm not sure what Samsung Smart TV's have… Barely use the dumb tv I already have…

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  34. Brian Curtis Quick, go tell Samsung that they're doing it and wrong and you know more about their technology than they do. Do you honestly think that Samsung include all commands for all potential 3rd party apps that people may or may not use on their TV just in case? It doesn't work like that bud.

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  35. Brian Curtis Quick, go tell Samsung that they're doing it and wrong and you know more about their technology than they do. Do you honestly think that Samsung include all commands for all potential 3rd party apps that people may or may not use on their TV just in case? It doesn't work like that bud.

    Post a Reply
  36. Brian Curtis Quick, go tell Samsung that they're doing it and wrong and you know more about their technology than they do. Do you honestly think that Samsung include all commands for all potential 3rd party apps that people may or may not use on their TV just in case? It doesn't work like that bud.

    Post a Reply
  37. Brian Curtis Quick, go tell Samsung that they're doing it and wrong and you know more about their technology than they do. Do you honestly think that Samsung include all commands for all potential 3rd party apps that people may or may not use on their TV just in case? It doesn't work like that bud.

    Post a Reply
  38. Brian Curtis Quick, go tell Samsung that they're doing it and wrong and you know more about their technology than they do. Do you honestly think that Samsung include all commands for all potential 3rd party apps that people may or may not use on their TV just in case? It doesn't work like that bud.

    Post a Reply
  39. Brian Curtis Quick, go tell Samsung that they're doing it and wrong and you know more about their technology than they do. Do you honestly think that Samsung include all commands for all potential 3rd party apps that people may or may not use on their TV just in case? It doesn't work like that bud.

    Post a Reply
  40. Brian Curtis Quick, go tell Samsung that they're doing it and wrong and you know more about their technology than they do. Do you honestly think that Samsung include all commands for all potential 3rd party apps that people may or may not use on their TV just in case? It doesn't work like that bud.

    Post a Reply
  41. Brian Curtis Quick, go tell Samsung that they're doing it and wrong and you know more about their technology than they do. Do you honestly think that Samsung include all commands for all potential 3rd party apps that people may or may not use on their TV just in case? It doesn't work like that bud.

    Post a Reply
  42. So I have a 36 in. CRT.22 YRS OLD..Likely older than you. What's your point?

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  43. Russell Bragg, I have a 7 year old Samsung Plasma and a 2 year old Toshiba lcd, the plasma doesn't come close to the lcd. When I do get a new TV, I have no want to control it with my voice, it's easy enough to just turn that function off.

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  44. Brian McCready We'll have to agree to disagree on the rights of citizens in corporatized environments (their own homes!), as well as the civic responsibilities of corporations that have been granted personhood status. Notably, these devices come automatically opted in. You have to go in and change them to opt out. Most people simply don't know how to do that. So it's predatory at best. I don't believe any corporation has the right to create a device that will record your personal information in your own home and then transmit that to other corporations in a way that leaves it vulnerable to hackers and law enforcement. I believe most people agree with me, but if you want to continue to be a corporate surveillance apologist, that's your perogative. The writing is on the wall.

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  45. Nuance, "Nuance respects the privacy of its users in its use of speech data." Like facebook and Twitter no doubt.

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  46. Privacy belongs now days to four classes: The rich (who can afford to pay for it), the poor (about whom no one is interested), the clever, and the corrupt.

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  47. Technologically, voice command in appliances like TVs is a chicken and egg problem. How do you get a device to perk up and start listening to you simply by addressing it with a voice command. Without listening to you prior to the command, it cannot know that you are trying to get its attention.

    One might suggest that the TV listen in disconnected mode. But without powerful servers slicing and dicing sound data, it is currently too difficult for a device with limited processing power, like a TV, to reliably make heads or tails out of what is being said around it.

    The problem of disconnected sound processing will eventually be solved, but we are a long way from it. For now, you really do need to turn off those voice command features, and put a sticker over your embedded cameras (they can be turned on without you knowing it).

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  48. Not reliably. Voice processing that properly handles a vast array of accents and background noise is simply not possible in a device like a TV. You need a back-end with lots of processing power to do this today.

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  49. Josh Barton No, not the comsumer, the company. Can't that just decide "sending people's conversations to a third party is terrible, lets not do that."

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