ABC57 Investigates: Is your Smart TV listening to you?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Smart TV's are getting smarter.

Some are now programmed to listen to you.

Two years ago, Sean Barcus purchased a 55-inch Samsung Smart TV.

The price tag—$3,000.

“Even the car I drive now didn't cost as much as my TV,” Barcus said.

It's worth it, he explained.

Barcus delights in each and every feature his Smart TV has to offer.

The same enthusiasm played out with Samsung Smart TV owner Andre Wells.

“You can shop on it. You can get internet on there,” Wells raved.

“You got voice gestures to where you can tell it to change the channel. Volume up, volume down,” Barcus added.

Pause, stop it right there.

It is called the Voice Recognition feature.

When enabled, it allows users to use voice commands to search for requested content.

In Samsung's original privacy policy, a single sentence aimed to alert consenting viewers to this feature.

It read, “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.”

“It's an invasion of privacy to me,” Wells explained.

Internationally known tech security expert Bruce Schneier said the feature raises privacy concerns.

“Fundamentally all of these devices are surveillance devices. They're listening to what we're doing. They're recording what we're doing. And there are huge privacy concerns there,” said Schneier.

Schneier also thinks this opens users up to hackers.

Now, some users are questioning their security.

“If they had told me that up front when I bought the television, I probably wouldn't have gotten it,” Wells said.

In the following statement, issued to ABC57 News, Samsung said it provides security safeguards to protect personal information.

"Samsung takes consumer privacy very seriously. In all of our Smart TVs we employ industry-standard security safeguards and practices to secure consumers' personal information and prevent unauthorized collection or use.

Voice recognition, which allows the user to control the TV using voice commands, is a Samsung Smart TV feature, which can be activated or deactivated by the user. The TV owner can also disconnect the TV from the Wi-Fi network. Should consumers enable the voice recognition capability, the voice data consists of TV commands, or search sentences, only. Users can easily recognize if the voice recognition feature is activated because a microphone icon appears on the screen.

Samsung does not retain voice data or sell it to third parties. If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature, voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search. At that time, the voice data is sent to a server, which searches for the requested content then returns the desired content to the TV. Samsung encourages consumers to contact the company directly with any product concerns or questions at 1-800-SAMSUNG."

Schneier said invasion of privacy is nearly unavoidable in today's fast growing tech world, with Smart TV's just one of countless devices, capable of threatening users privacy.

He thinks the solution is to create laws protecting consumers.

“We need strong privacy laws. We're not going to say don't do this because there are a lot of real good reasons why you might use some of these technologies. But right now companies can do whatever they want with that data. They can process it, they can sell it, they can use it to make judgments about you. So we need strong privacy laws that protect our data, even as we give it to third parties,” Schneier explained.

If you want to take a look at the Samsung's Smart TV Privacy Policy click here.
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