Nobody usually reads the End User License Agreements or EULAs that come with electronic devices. But one thorough person read the one that comes with a Samsung Smart TV and noticed the line "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." He compared it to a line from George Orwell's classic, "1984," and the Internet promptly went nuts.
The issue of privacy is a serious one, but I don't think in this particular case Samsung has done anything egregious — other than hire some really stupid lawyers who felt it necessary to spell out the obvious — that all of our smart electronics know a whole lot about us and it's the price we pay for the convenience. When you talk to your Samsung TV, it's no different than saying "Hey, Siri!" to your iPhone. The hardware doesn't have the processing power to convert speech so it sends it via the cloud to the equipment that can. In Samsung's case, it's processed by a third party company, Nuance.
When I recently moved my wife over to Gmail, she was creeped out because there were ads on the side that related to the content of her mail. I said "don't worry, it's just an algorithm." When the electric company installed a smart meter, a lot of people worried that the government would know when they were doing laundry. When the Nest thermostat came out, people started giving information about their movements around the house. When I look at the HealthKit app on my iPhone, I realize that it really knows everywhere I have been and even how many steps it took to get there.
Really, think about the information you might be giving Google, from your mail to your search habits to your location (if you are on android and are carrying your phone) to what's going on in your house if you have a Nest thermostat — and now Nest owns Dropcam and can video monitor you. I suspect that the last thing we should be worrying about is a Samsung Smart TV.
If you have a smartphone you have pretty much given up any expectation of real personal privacy. We can either welcome our new eavesdropping overlords and hope that the information they are collecting is not misused or go back to a landline phone where Big Brother theoretically still needs a warrant, and a dumb TV with rabbit ears.
What do you think?
Related in MNN and TreeHugger:
- Smart grid data collection sparks privacy concerns
- What is the 'Right to be Forgotten' movement?
- Smartphones can now detect diseases in minutes