Samsung Capturing Voice Data?!?

by | Mar 4, 2015

Samsung Store

I spent the last couple of weeks thinking about the media flap over Samsung, 4K and Smart TV’s capturing voice data and sharing that data with third parties. After some lengthy internal debate, I decided to add my two cents worth to the conversation. For those of you wearing tin-foil hats, you can stop reading here, you have already decided the world is out to get you and nothing I write will change that opinion. For those of you that think the government is capturing every bit of electronic data out there and mining it with complicated computer algorithms for possible terrorist threats, keep reading, I might have something for you. Same answer for those afraid of potential litigation over any damaging information that might possibly be captured by the microphones imbedded in your TV. For the 98% of the population that doesn’t fall into one of the above categories, I hope I can give you something for you to think about.

The simplest answer

The one glaring omission from the vast majority of the hype that I have encountered has been plain ol’ common sense. I want to interject some of that into the discussion. Do you remember the debate over objectionable content on TV? Some people were of the opinion that select networks might air content that was sexually suggestive/explicit, politically unpopular, radical, (add your pet peeve to this list here), etc. They argued that those channels should be banned from the airwaves. What was the answer then? Change the channel. Right? The same logic applies here. If you are even the tiniest bit concerned about what might be captured by the microphones in your TV, don’t enable the voice control feature. Use your hand held remote control to turn the set on and change the channels. It’s really that simple. If the feature isn’t enabled, it isn’t listening.

A little deeper

The voice control feature isn’t turned on, but the TV still has a microphone and is connected to the Internet. What is stopping the Government from remotely triggering the microphone, without your knowledge, and recording whatever it hears? Thankfully we live in a Country with laws and a Bill of Rights that specifically forbids just that kind of snooping without a court approved search warrant. Looking past that elephant in the room, let’s assume that this could happen. The simplest answer is to unplug the network cable from your TV and get your Netflix through your Blu-Ray player or ROKU dongle. Another option is, don’t buy a Samsung 4K Smart TV. There are plenty of other 4K sets on the market that are pretty amazing.

All well and good, but you already own one of these sets. I will submit that anyone that is of the above opinion might want to examine other, far more dangerous, aspects of modern living before putting their new 4K TV on E-bay. Are you online in any capacity? If so, anything that you send via e-mail, any search you conduct, any cookie your computer accepts, every tweet, Facebook post, and lists of every song you have ever downloaded, already exists in the public domain. It’s all there for the taking. Do you ever wonder how your computer knows which ads to display when you log into your Amazon account? Think about it. The amount of personal information available online is truly disturbing. All it takes is someone with the right skill set to go looking for it. The government definitely employs such individuals. If the FBI, CIA or Homeland Security hasn’t come knocking on your door, you are probably OK.

Do you really care if your TV can hear what you are talking about in your living room?

By the way, the social media notes above should be examined more closely. There are numerous accounts of thieves trolling Facebook and Twitter accounts to pick up comments about vacations or posts with tags showing the location where the picture, etc. was posted. Said thieves then stroll over to the residence of the person in question and rob them blind. Care should be taken whenever posting to social media. You never know who might be watching. You should also make sure your privacy settings do not allow access to phone numbers, addresses, etc.

If your concern is more in line with potential litigation over what the Samsung microphone has heard in your living room, most of the above also applies here. The difference is that the court system is far more discerning as to what can be admitted for consideration in any type of litigation. Illegally obtained recordings from your TV are, generally, not admissible in any court (I’m not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV, my opinions should not be construed as legally binding in any way shape or form).

Perhaps the most obvious hole in any of these arguments is the ability of the microphone in your Samsung TV to pick up recognizable conversation. The California court system has been trying for years to replace court reporters with electronic recordings. One of the main obstacles to this idea that is that the microphones don’t capture everything that is said. Nobody, and I mean nobody, sits perfectly still and talks directly into a microphone – even if they are specifically instructed to do so. If the courts can’t get reliable recordings, what kind of quality do you think is coming from the microphone in your TV? Do you sit right next to the microphone and shout when discussing what show to watch next? Neither do I.

Final thoughts

I have left the best for last. Do you really care if your TV can hear what you are talking about in your living room? If your living room conversations are anything like mine, anyone listening would be bored out of their skulls in about twenty seconds. Even if this wasn’t the case, is the living room where you sit to discuss taking over rival businesses or world domination? Of course not, you either sit at the kitchen table or have the conversation in your cleverly disguised lair. I believe that the hype is just that. This story is little more than the news stations looking for headlines. In my humble opinion, we all need to take a breath and examine where our priorities lie. I suspect that eavesdropping TV’s fall pretty far down the list.

For another opinion that includes direct responses from Samsung please see the excellent article by Chris Matyszczyk on c|net.com. The story can be found by following the link below.


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About Brian Hill
Brian Hill is a home theater enthusiast who has an extensive background in sales. His interests include music & movies, F1 & NASCAR auto racing, hot rods (he has a '56 Nomad) and hockey — Go Sharks!
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