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In wake of controversy, Samsung changes privacy policy for its smart TVs

The company now names the third party with which it shares voice data

Published: February 10, 2015 01:30 PM

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In response to a number of articles—including Consumer Reports'—that highlighted concerns about exactly what Samsung's smart TVs are listening to and where they are sending that data, Samsung has updated its privacy policy.

The company's official blog post about the change, "Samsung Smart TVs Do Not Monitor Living Room Conversations," includes significant details about how the voice-recognition technology in the company's TVs works:

"Voice recognition takes place in two ways:

"The first is through an embedded microphone inside the TV set that responds to simple predetermined TV commands such as changing the channel and increasing the volume. Voice data is neither stored nor transmitted in using these predetermined commands.

"The second microphone, which is inside the remote control, requires interaction with a server because it is used for searching content. A user, for example, can speak into the remote control requesting the search of particular TV programs (ex: “Recommend a good Sci-Fi movie”). This interaction works like most any other voice recognition service available on other products including smartphones and tablets."

Samsung's new privacy policy even mentions voice-recognition-technology provider Nuance Communications, Inc. by name, a shift from the ominous, could-be-anybody "third-party" language common in many privacy policies.

We're encouraged that Samsung is providing real details on what its Internet-connected devices are doing and disclosing its third-party providers. Alvaro Bedoya of Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology (whom we worked with on our initial legal analysis of Samsung and LG's smart TV privacy policies) is also encouraged, but cautious. "This clarification is certainly a step forward," he says. "But as is, Samsung's policy reserves for itself the right to share a broad range of information—including voice requests—with a large group of third parties that a TV owner has never heard of. Consumers deserve better than that."

—Glenn Derene

Check out our TV buying guide and Ratings for more information on smart TVs.

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