Samsung Denies Smart TV Snooping

Samsung's smart TVs will listen in on you, if you let them, but there doesn't appear to be any nefarious purpose behind it. Although the voice recognition software on Samsung smart TVs does indeed listen in on what you say and transmit data to a third party, the company claims it does so in order to improve the software, not to glean any personal information.

Samsung clarified its smart TV privacy policy on the Samsung Tomorrow official blog, where it explained that it has revised its language in order to alleviate customer concerns. The South Korean electronics manufacturer has been under fire since last week, when alert Reddit users pointed out an extremely broad and potentially troubling clause in its privacy policy. The phrasing suggested that Samsung could listen in on whatever you said and share that data with third parties, so long as you activated voice recognition.

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As it turns out, Samsung does not appear to be doing anything untoward with the gathered voice data. At present, the company is sharing it with Nuance Communications, Inc., a company that specializes in speech recognition software. When the company monitors your voice, it does so with the intention of making speech patterns more recognizable.

The company also clarified that it does not eavesdrop on users, but only collects data when a user is speaking directly into the microphone for a search or command function. How exactly the company differentiates commands from idle conversation is not clear, but volume and keywords likely factor into the equation.

As before, you can still disable voice recognition entirely in the settings menu. However, this means that your ability to control your smart TV with your voice will be severely limited.

Speaking with Samsung last week, Tom's Guide determined that although the company collects data for third parties, it does not sell consumer data. Furthermore, Nuance Communications is a far cry from the NSA or advertisers. Still, if the data collection makes you uncomfortable, disable the functionality — or else just be very, very quiet while watching TV.

Marshall Honorof is a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at Follow him @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi. 

  • mapesdhs
    The voice command function really doesn't work that well anyway, best not used IMO.

    One thing I'd like to know though: how does the voice come system ensure it
    does not mistakenly respond to relevant spoken dialogue coming from a TV
    programme or movie one is watching?


  • Solandri
    Noise cancellation 101. Typically, any audio transmitted over the speakers is subtracted from the input the microphone picks up. It's not perfect because the shape and contents of the room distort the sound coming from the speakers by the time the mic picks it up. But it's better than the alternative of just leaving the noise in there. All video and voice conferencing apps and devices do this. Your phone does it too if you're using it in speakerphone mode.
  • Imagine all the saucy things you say to your SO in front of the television... Yeah, I don't want some engineer to analyse that.
  • therealduckofdeath
    Andy, I hope you don't own a smartphone or a tablet, because they do the same "snooping".

    This "story" is a typical red herring created by bloggers to create FUD and generate clicks.

    The lack of morals in modern media is a real concern. Too bad no one in media is man enough to deal with that problem.
  • cirdecus
    "Furthermore, Nuance Communications is a far cry from the NSA or advertisers."

    If the data is there, it is accessible by the NSA. That is why people have a concern about this. Listening to Samsung say "oh we have decided to only share it with X person, so you're good" isn't making anyone feel better. Having the information in the first place is what is alarming to people, not what Samsung is CURRENTLY doing with it.

    Data needs to be protected. Policies that explain what is being done with the data are not sufficient to protect it's use. I think with the NSA information recently as well as the constant large profile hacks (think Sony, Anthem, Target, etc), people could care less what your privacy policy says you do with the data. They care that you have it in the first place.
  • atavax
    i remember reading awhile ago about Smart TVs sending the data even when you have the functionality disabled.
  • wiyosaya
    To me, the most amazing part of this story is the fact that it seems that Samsung actually thinks people will believe this CYA attempt.