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Samsung warns over 'eavesdropping' TV

Samsung has warned customers to avoid discussing personal or sensitive information in front of its voice-activated television set.

The privacy policy for the company’s Smart TV specifies that any spoken words in front of it will be “captured” and may be shared with third parties.

Privacy campaigners were quick to compare the TV sets with George Orwell’s telescreens in the 1984 novel, which spied on citizens, and branded the policy “outrageous”.

“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,” said an excerpt of Samsung privacy policy for its Smart TV, as reported by the online magazine the Daily Beast.

Listening to people in the same room was necessary to be able to identify a command, explained the policy. “While Samsung will not collect your spoken word, Samsung may still collect associated texts and other usage data so that we can evaluate the performance of the feature and improve it.”

Corynne McSherry, an intellectual property lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told the online magazine that the third party was probably the company providing speech-to-text conversation for Samsung.

“If I were the customer, I might like to know who that third party was, and I’d definitely like to know whether my words were being transmitted in a secure form.”

Samsung’s policy statement was later distributed on Twitter by a user along with a passage from Orwell’s book describing the telescreen.

Samsung swiftly responded to the uproar by issuing a statement to clarify how voice activation works.

It said that it takes customer privacy “very seriously” and any gathering of users' information is carried out with the “utmost transparency”. It added that the privacy policy allows the user to make informed choices about what features of the Smart TV they would like to use.

“In all of our Smart TVs we employ industry-standard security safeguards and practices, including data encryption, to secure consumers’ personal information and prevent unauthorized 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.”

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