Q: Based on all the stories about Samsung TVs in the news, should I turn off the voice recognition on my TV or leave it on?
Smart TVs are considered “smart” because they can perform tasks similar to a computer, such as connect to the Internet and use specialized apps.
A major firestorm erupted on the Internet this week, when someone posted a portion of the privacy statement from the manual of a Samsung smart TV.
The sentence that got things going, taken out of context, sounds pretty Orwellian: “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.”
The plethora of salacious headlines that suggested that Samsung Smart TVs were constantly eavesdropping on all your private conversations are a complete misrepresentations of what actually happens.
For the record, the technology used by Samsung for converting speech-to-text is the same for virtually every device you own that offers voice-recognition features, so you’re probably already sharing your voice commands with others.
Nuance provides voice recognition technology to lots of companies: Apple (Siri), Amazon (Fire TV, Echo), LG, Panasonic, BMW, Ford and just about every smartphone and tablet manufacturer you may have heard about.
As with every other device or service that I am aware of, voice recognition does not turn on until a user either presses a button or gives a specific wake-up command. The wake-up command for iPhone users is “Hey Siri,” for Xbox One users it’s “Xbox on” and for Google Glass users it’s “OK Glass.”
Samsung smart TVs can use ‘Hi TV’ to wake up and start listening. Then and only then, will the device be listening to what you are saying and, in the case of the Samsung TVs, a huge microphone icon will appear on the screen.
Simple voice commands like “mute,” “volume up” and “TV off” are built into the television, but more complex voice commands — such as searching for specific shows on specific networks — would require the heavy lifting that Nuance provides.
In those cases, your voice commands are shared and potentially stored with “a third-party” but it’s far from the nefarious activity that’s being portrayed by so many online.
The stated reason for storing the voice commands is to help improve the recognition service. Amazon and Apple have similar statements in their user agreements.
What could be possible has been wildly speculated, but for the moment, it’s mostly conjecture.
If you don’t see yourself using elaborate voice commands that would require the third-party technology, you can turn off the voice-recognition function but still make use of the predetermined built-in voice commands, which aren’t stored or shared with anyone.
Other smart TVs that offer voice recognition features will likely work the exact same way, so it’s less of a Samsung issue and more of an industry standard if you decide you want this technology.