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Samsung: Our TVs? Spying on you? Ha Ha! Just a joke of course

No 'sensitive information' warning any more ... done

Samsung has responded to the worldwide paroxysm of excitement over its smart TVs listening to people in their living rooms – by insisting that its voice-control technology isn't in any way at all as creepy as its own privacy policy made out.

"Samsung takes consumer privacy very seriously and our products are designed with privacy in mind," the Korean firm said in a blog post on Tuesday. "We employ industry-standard security safeguards and practices, including data encryption, to secure consumers’ personal information and prevent unauthorized collection or use."

That said, however, Samsung hasn't actually changed how its TVs' voice recognition works. It has just changed the language of its privacy policy to help clarify how the voice-recognition works.

The brouhaha began earlier this week, when someone spotted language in Samsung's privacy policy to the effect that the company's TVs not only detect and collect speech data, but also ship it hither and yon across the internet:

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.

In an update to the policy on Tuesday, the above language has been pulled, and Samsung no longer warns customers about the perils of speaking too freely in front of their televisions. Here's what it says now:

To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some interactive voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service provider (currently, Nuance Communications, Inc.) that converts your interactive voice commands to text and to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you.

The new language appears to indicate that Samsung is only sharing the audio data it captures with a speech recognition provider and not with more sinister partners, such as advertisers. It goes on:

In addition, Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features.

In other words, Samsung does collect and analyze what you bark at its TVs, but only in the sense that Google Search and other voice-activated online services do. And finally there's this bit:

Samsung will collect your interactive voice commands only when you make a specific search request to the Smart TV by clicking the activation button either on the remote control or on your screen and speaking into the microphone on the remote control.

So according to Samsung, its TVs are not constantly monitoring everything you say and broadcasting it back to the chaebol's servers. While there is a microphone built into the set, Samsung claims it is only used to respond to a specific set of predefined commands for things like changing the channel or muting the volume, and nothing it hears is sent to any server.

The change in terms surely won't comfort everyone. But if the language of the revised privacy policy still doesn't set your mind at ease, Samsung reminds us that the voice recognition and search features can be disabled at any time – although where that leaves you with regard to the other voice control features isn't clear:

If you do not enable Voice Recognition, you will not be able to use interactive voice recognition features, although you may be able to control your TV using certain predefined voice commands.

Although Samsung has published the revised policy in its official blog, the policy language has yet to be updated on the firm's UK website - as this is written. It's that, of course, which sparked the outrage in the first place. ®

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