Home > Identity Theft > Is Your Smart TV Listening to You?

Comments 0 Comments

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. 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.

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. 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.

Read it and weep.

As a leader of the oft-paranoid-sounding-privacy-sensitive crowd, let me be the first to congratulate Samsung for its honesty. Plenty of my friends in paranoia have pointed out the language included in Samsung’s new SmartTV privacy policy. Because the gizmo uses voice recognition to let owners change the channel and do other cool things, naturally the TV has to “watch you.” And anyone paying attention knows just what that means:

“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,” says Samsung’s privacy policy. Good on ‘em.

Am I just being paranoid, or do you also dislike the idea of your living room chatter being recorded and sent off to unknown “third parties?” Don’t answer that.

In truth, this is just lawyer-speak. Samsung and its partners don’t want to hear about your Aunt Ethel’s health problems, and they don’t want to listen in on your makeout sessions (the company even confirmed its listening intentions in a recent blog post). Really, I believe that. Any gadgeteer working on systems like these, which are tricky and usually clunky, wants to know how they are being used any how to improve them. Of course. A very responsible lawyer forced the firm to include that disclosure in the interest of completeness. It sounds worse than it is.

Until, it isn’t.

The ‘Privacy’ of Your Home

Recall that every record stored in any computer anywhere can be obtained by law enforcement, or really anyone acting on behalf of a court of law. Forget Ed Snowden and super-spooky FBI software monitoring phone calls. The FBI can simply ask Samsung, or its “third-party” suppliers, and obtain records of what happens in your living room.  So can (until someone proves otherwise) folks investigating civil claims, such as…..divorce lawyers. Those makeout sessions would be of plenty of interest to them.

“I totally can see the FBI or others approaching Samsung … probably without thinking there’s any need for a warrant .. and saying they were after a ‘bad guy’ and ‘asking’ for that data,” said a former colleague of mine, Steve White. He is now president of White Marsh Forests, a firm working on machine learning technology.  ”Happened regularly at MSN…MSNBC. Now I’m staring warily at my Samsung laptop.”

To be clear, it’s settled law in the U.S. — any information you share with a “third party” private company can be obtained by law enforcement. You surrender any expectation of privacy once you disclose something to a corporation, or any third party. It’s the biggest end-around in American privacy law.

Don’t blame Samsung for this. It’s just telling the truth. I hope you are now wondering about any other gizmos you have invited into your home that watch you. Smart thermostats? Internet-enabled crock pots? Yup, these things can squeal to anyone about you. They can relate when you come home at night and plenty of other very personal details about your life. Any technology that watches (or listens) to you creates a record that can be used against you. Even if you are in the “privacy” of your own living room.  And our living rooms (and bedrooms) are about to be inundated with this stuff under the friendly name of the “Internet of Things.”

The problem is the law. Of course Samsung should be able to see how its technology is working, and be able to learn from real-world uses. We just need to pass laws that make it expressly, unequivocally illegal to use that information for anything other than its intended purpose, and require that it be permanently deleted as soon as that intended purpose is complete. Notice, I didn’t say the data should be anonymized, because (if you’ve been paying attention), it’s really hard to anonymize data. It needs to be deleted. The privacy of 100 million living rooms shouldn’t be up for grabs so law enforcement might have a slightly easier time catching a criminal every once in a while. That’s not the way America should work.

Thanks, Samsung for helping me feel a little less paranoid. And hopefully making a few more people feel a lot more paranoid.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

More on Data Privacy:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team