Samsung Clarifies Privacy Policy: What Your Smart TV Can Really Hear

PHOTO: SUHD 4K televisions from Samsung are on display at the Consumer Electronics Show Jan. 8, 2015, in Las Vegas.Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
SUHD 4K televisions from Samsung are on display at the Consumer Electronics Show Jan. 8, 2015, in Las Vegas.

A warning in Samsung's privacy policy to not discuss sensitive information around voice-recognizing smart televisions left many consumers wondering if they had inadvertently welcomed a spy into their living room.

Samsung today clarified its policy to explain that its smart televisions are not continuously monitoring conversations.

The company said in a blog post it 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."

Some commands may also be sent to Nuance Communications, a third-party service that helps translate the commands to the television, such as recommending a sci-fi movie to watch or switching to a certain channel.

Samsung said its smart TVs have an embedded microphone inside the device and another inside the remote control, into which viewers can speak their commands.

"This interaction works like most any other voice recognition service available on other products including smartphones and tablets," Samsung said.

The previous policy warned consumers to "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."

The warning drew comparisons to George Orwell's dystopian novel "1984." Parker Higgins, an activist with the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, pointed out on Twitter the similarities between the two.

Customers who are still worried about a potential spy lurking in their living room can easily disable voice recognition in the settings menu of their device.