Samsung: Our smart TVs aren't eavesdropping on your conversations

Users have to deliberately press buttons to activate the voice commands features

People can speak freely around Samsung smart TVs without fear that their conversations will be captured and transmitted to a data center, the company has said in response to privacy concerns related to its devices' voice recognition capabilities.

Samsung TVs don't monitor conversations, the company said in a blog post that clarified how its smart TV handle voice command data.

Voice commands are handled by a microphone embedded in the TV remote control, which triggers interaction with a server for things such as recommending movies or searching for certain TV programs.

Samsung said it collects interactive voice commands only when a person makes a search request, which requires deliberately pressing a button on the remote control and speaking into the remote control's microphone.

Language in the company's privacy policy stoked fears of digital spying in recent days. The policy originally cautioned people against sharing personal information around its voice-controlled TVs. But Samsung has now removed this sentence, which triggered the concerns: "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."

Samsung's amended privacy policy also identifies the third party as Nuance Communications, a Massachusetts company that builds speech recognition software. Nuance handles translating "interactive voice commands" into text enabling the request to be fulfilled, Samsung said.

In addition to the voice data, Nuance receives other information, including "device identifiers." Neither Samsung nor Nuance immediately replied to questions on what specific information is shared and how the data is kept private. It's also not clear for how long the remote control's microphone stays on after it's activated.

Samsung collects spoken commands and texts to improve its voice recognition feature, the company said, adding that voice control functions found in tablets and smartphones work in a similar fashion.

Another microphone built into the TV handles basic, pre-programmed commands like changing the channel or adjusting the volume. Voice data for those requests isn't stored nor transmitted.

Samsung reminded people that they don't have to use the interactive voice commands and can stop their data from being collected. However, disabling data collection prevents the search feature from working, essentially dumbing down a smart TV.

If people decide against using the advanced voice control features, the simple voice commands that the TV is programmed to recognize will still work.

Fred O'Connor writes about IT careers and health IT for The IDG News Service. Follow Fred on Twitter at @fredjoconnor. Fred's e-mail address is fred_o'connor@idg.com

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