The exact wording was as follows: “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 through your use of Voice Recognition.”
Now, however, Samsung has issued a clarification. The company says that the voice recognition feature -- which is opt-in -- transmits people's spoken commands, as well as device identifiers, to a service provider that converts the commands to text.
“Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features,” the company said today. “Samsung will collect your interactive voice commands only when you make a specific search request to the Smart TV by clicking the activation button either on the remote control or on your screen and speaking into the microphone on the remote control.”
In other words, Samsung says it isn't trying to spy on TV viewers' conversations for its own purposes. But it's understandable that people assumed the worst, especially given that at least one other company seems to have mulled a similar feature. Several years ago, Verizon sought to patent a method of tailoring ads to people based on what they're doing while watching TV.
In its application for the patent, titled "Methods and Systems for Presenting an Advertisement Associated with an Ambient Action of a User," Verizon explained how it planned to put sensors -- like infrared cameras and microphones -- onto set-top boxes. Those devices would let Verizon know what people are doing while watching TV, which would then determine the type of ads people received.
If a sensor determines that someone is running on a treadmill while watching tv, Verizon could send them ads for health food, the company explained in its application. If the sensor "detects that a couple is arguing/fighting with each other," the company "may select an advertisement associated marriage/relationship counseling."
Of course, even though Verizon mentioned these scenarios in a patent application, that doesn't mean the company was poised to roll out this ad technology. But Verizon's move makes it plausible that Samsung could have contemplated capturing -- and sharing -- the types of conversations that many people rightly think are private.