We’ve all experienced someone loudly talking during the movies, or at home, when we’re trying to watch the end of a suspenseful show. But talking during TV programs can actually affect your privacy. The development of voice command technology, such as Siri and Alexa, doesn’t stop with smart phones, it’s also available on SmartTVs. It’s pretty convenient to ask your TV to flip to a specific channel, but what happens when you’re having a conversation with others near the TV? Does the recording stop? Where does this data go?

The Quite Obvious Fly on the Wall

The voice-command feature on the television is left on to respond to commands regarding the use of the device and its services. While the voice-command feature allows you to speak to the television to play certain games, shows or movies without picking up a remote, the device is recording all statements made that it can pick up. Not only does it process your commands, but it also collects the excess of what is said for research on possible improvements and sends them to a third party. In 2015, media outlets reported that Samsung televisions were recording voice data, possibly for technology development reasons, although the privacy policy did not name the third party that was collecting and processing such data. It was later confirmed that the third party is Nuance, which is a speech-to-text company specializing in voice recognition. While Nuance claims to be collecting the recorded information for product improvement purposes, we can’t be certain that it’s discarding what you say in the safety of your own home.

Luckily, Samsung now notifies its users that the voice-activation connection can be turned off or disconnected from your Wi-Fi connection in order to terminate the voice data recording mechanism. You may be able to opt out of the voice-recognition feature, but your voice may still be captured and recorded. Pre-programmed commands that you input are also recorded to show how frequently they are utilized by the customer. So the next time you get frustrated, yelling at the TV for playing Donald Duck cartoons when you said “Donald Trump,” your exasperated and possibly expletive response will be recorded and sent to the third party, and who knows who else. Private discussions or mere daily conversation in the household may no longer be private as an unknown number of listeners now have exposure to them.

Is the Technology Worth the Risk?

While Samsung has made these distinctions and warnings clear in their privacy policies specific to the use of their SmartTV devices, other companies have resorted merely to general policy statements that exclude the specificities of SmartTV capabilities and features, such as Philips and LG. This can be a separate concern, such as when users learned LG was tracking the customer’s viewing habits and history covertly. As technology continues to progress, is the risk of the internet and multiple parties having the ability to record and listen to your household conversations truly more beneficial than reaching to pick up the remote and change the channel yourself? How willing are we to let strangers into our homes?

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