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Samsung defends smart TVs accused of spying on users

Samsung has had to rebuff suggestions that its smart TVs can be used to collect sensitive information.

Consumers’ fears were raised after a section of the firm’s privacy policy (opens in new tab) stated that “personal or other sensitive information” may be transferred when using the smart TV’s voice recognition software.

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The South Korean firm has sought to reassure users that their privacy is not at risk when using the feature.

"Samsung does not retain voice data or sell it to third parties," the company explained in a statement. "If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature, voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search.

The firm stressed that audio information is simply sent to a server which then matches it against available content.

"Samsung takes consumer privacy very seriously,” added a company spokesperson. “In all of our Smart TVs we employ industry-standard security safeguards and practices, including data encryption, to secure consumers' personal information and prevent unauthorised collection or use."

Corynne McSherry, the intellectual property director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Daily Beast that although the feature was likely to improve the TV’s functionality, users were justifiably concerned.

“It looks like they are using a third-party service to convert speech to text, so that’s most of what is being disclosed here,” she said. “If I were the customer, I might like to know who that third party was, and I’d definitely like to know whether my words were being transmitted in a secure form.”

Privacy advocates have drawn parallels between the Samsung TVs and the telescreens in Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, which double as surveillance devices.

Samsung has also emphasised that users are always informed when Voice Recognition is active via an image of a microphone on screen, and that users are free to deactivate the feature.

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As the number of Internet connected devices increases, the amount of personal data that we share with companies will also grow. Therefore, these businesses have a huge responsibility to protect this data effectively.

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with IT Pro Portal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.