'Spying' on Consumers by Samsung Smart TVs Bashed by Privacy Experts

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2015-02-15 Print this article Print
Samsung listening TV

Julia Horwitz, the director of the Consumer Privacy Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told eWEEK in an email reply that Samsung needs to make changes with these devices to better protect consumers. "While you are watching TV, TV should not be watching you," she wrote. "Samsung should stop recording the private conversations of people in their homes. In the old days, this was called bugging. It is unnecessary to transmit private conversations to a third party over the Internet for the purposes of voice commands. Privacy enhancing techniques could minimize or eliminate the need to collect personal data from users. This type of over-collection is reckless [because] consumers do not know how their personal data will be used in the future. Most of the time, companies don't know either."

In a related move, EPIC told eWEEK that it is planning to file an official complaint about the Samsung situation with the FTC on Feb. 16, seeking an investigation into potential consumer privacy violations in the case of the Smart TVs.

Parker Higgins, the director of copyright activism with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told eWEEK in an email reply that public reaction has been telling about the TV privacy issue. "Some have been quick to point out that the voice recognition that Samsung's TVs perform isn't so different from what Siri or Google Now do, but that misses the point," wrote Higgins. "Users don't feel like they have control here, and companies feel like they can put a line in an unread privacy policy and get rid of any issues."

Consumers "have a lot to worry about," he wrote. "Really, companies should be worried
about this issue: if you're thinking about privacy in the first place,
and incorporating privacy by design, then you don't have the situation
where you're on the front page for some practice that forces privacy by

What companies like Samsung should do, wrote Higgins, is to "be focused on
minimizing the surprises [that] users experience. If that means putting [details about such features] on the box, then OK, but I don't think there's a one-line solution to this."

Carmen Balber, the executive director of the group, Consumer Watchdog, said the voice recognition feature of the Samsung Smart TVs is "a by-product that no consumer would have considered would be a part of their purchase of the television.  It's disturbing, but unfortunately not that surprising to see what Samsung revealed to customers about what it is collecting from consumer conversations. More and more, our technology is out-pacing the protections we have for consumers."


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