Samsung's Smart TV Privacy Policy Draws Questions On Capitol Hill

Late last week, some advocates noticed that Samsung's privacy policy suggested that the company was capable of listening to people's living room conversations and transmitting them to outside companies.

Samsung attempted to reassure people by publicly stating that its voice recognition feature -- which is opt-in -- only captures the commands that people speak into a microphone located on the remote control. The company says it transmits those commands, as well as device identifiers, to a service provider that converts the commands to text.

But that clarification doesn't satisfy everyone. Today, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) told Samsung that its policies regarding voice recognition technology remain cause for concern. “This relatively new technology has major implications for people's privacy, and I am concerned about the extent to which Samsung may be collecting and sharing SmartTV users' voice data,” Franken said in a letter to Samsung Electronics North America CEO Gregory Lee. 

Franken asked Lee to answer a host of questions, including whether Samsung ever shares or sells users' information, including their searches. Another question posed by Franken centered on whether Samsung restricts third parties' use of data about consumers.

“Given the nature of voice data, at a minimum, Samsung should provide clear and comprehensive privacy policies related to its SmartTV products and services, and should disclose detailed information about its data-sharing relationships with other companies,” Franken wrote. “Consumers must be able to make informed decisions about whether and with whom they share that information, and they must be assured that when the information is shared that it will receive the utmost protection.”

Franken isn't the only one raising questions. The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation points out in a blog post today that users have “no say in the terms of any tradeoff between privacy and convenience.”

The organization adds: “It may be worthwhile for voice recognition to be performed by a third party instead of on the device itself, but users don't get a say.”

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