June 20, 2021

Samsung’s TVs aren’t the only devices listening to you

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SamsungBy Samantha Murphy Kelly From Mashable

Dozens of reports have trickled out in the past few days about how Samsung’s SmartTV voice command feature can listen in on private conversations, essentially eavesdropping and recording what’s happening within the room.

The Samsung SmartTV voice command, which allows owners to use their voice as a remote control (e.g. to tell it to turn on the nightly news), was thrown into the spotlight earlier this week when The Daily Beast gave its terms and conditions policy a closer look. The policy highlights how it captures the spoken word and transmits user data (and their requests) to third parties.

“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 said in its terms and conditions policy.

The company has since pushed back on how people are interpreting the statement, saying it only sends data to third parties when someone is requesting a voice command search. This is actually a relatively common occurrence: If a company can’t handle a request with its own data (it’s not like Samsung maintains detailed TV listings by itself), it leans on third-party providers to help in those situations.

Samsung’s statement also clarified that it only “listens” to what you’re saying when you’re engaged with the voice activation software. If you’re having a normal conversation in the room and don’t address the TV first, it’s not collecting data. It also emphasized that users can also turn off the voice recognition feature.

The concept of any device eavesdropping on you is certainly alarming, but that’s not what’s happening. And when users do engage with voice systems, that voice recording has to go somewhere. Considering how often we’re talking to devices and software — from Siri, Cortana and Google’s voice recognition software to the Nest smart thermostat and the Amazon Echo speaker — Samsung’s Smart TV isn’t the only device that listens in this way.

“Whether it’s Samsung SmartTV or Amazon Echo, users activate them by saying a keyword,” Mark Hung of Gartner Research told Mashable. ” The devices don’t monitor anything before it hears the keyword, but they are always ‘listening’ for it. The devices don’t monitor anything before it hears the keyword, but they are always ‘listening’ for it. And once it’s done the request for you, the system knows the task is completed.”

But Hung said there are opportunities for companies like Samsung to use existing technology to learn more about user habits and behaviors.

“Companies aren’t trying to intrude on your privacy with voice recognition today, but the capability to do that is there if they wanted to in the future,” Hung added. “People are being tracked closely on the Internet and they’re not really aware of it — now there is a movement to opt out, rather than opt in. So while companies aren’t really tracking you with voice right now, there are possibilities ahead.”

The uproar
While innovations like voice recognition tech give users more convenience and a personalized experience, it raises issues around consumer privacy.

“Along with the benefits of these products come potential new forms of data collection which can also bring with them privacy concerns,” Chris Babel, CEO of TRUSTe, a data privacy management company, said. ” Companies need to be transparent with how consumer data is being collected and used Companies need to be transparent with how consumer data is being collected and used.””

According to a recent TRUSTe survey, consumer trust is at an all-time low. At the same time, web-connected products (a part of the so-called Internet of Things) are becoming widespread, with 35% of Americans owning at least one smart device other than their smartphone — the number one device being a smart TV. About 79% of survey participants said they are concerned about the concept of personal information being collected through their smart devices.

But Sam Rosen, practice director at ABI Research, said there shouldn’t be too much cause for concern when it comes to voice recognition services right now.

“In most cases, they aren’t constantly ‘eavesdropping,'” Rosen said. “They sit in an inactive mode until invoked (via a button push or activation command such as ‘Xbox’). From that point, they transmit audio files to a speech recognition service, convert that from voice to text, perform some search function on text (either on the server or device, or a combination of the two), and then return results.”

TL;DR? Companies only collect data when you engage with the device, send the request to servers for analysis and then deliver what you want based on the request.

The big players
While each company policy is different, many are similar in how they handle privacy when it comes to voice recognition.

For example, Google fans can use Google Now’s voice recognition to get information on nearby restaurants, movie times, flight arrivals and a ton more. But the company stores voice requests as a part of an effort to make the platform better.

If a user is logged into their account, the request is saved on its servers and tied to their account, but if a voice command is made when not logged in, it’s stored anonymously. Google makes it clear that you can review and delete audio files tied to the account.

Similar to Samsung’s policies, the voice recognition software only listens when you tell it to; in this case, when the user says the “OK Google” command before the request.

Meanwhile, Nest — the smart thermostat and smoke detector company acquired by Google in 2012 — is another piece of hardware with a voice recognition component. The company notes on its privacy page that it collects data “to provide users with Nest products and services, to allow us to understand how visitors navigate our site, and to provide advertising that is relevant to your interests.” This appears to take “listening” a step further by offering up details about your habits to brands that might want to later target you with ads.

But Amazon says it will only share your voice information with third party services to specifically fulfill your requests, “like your zip code when you ask for the weather or your personalized stations with our music partners.”

The terms of service for Siri are along the same lines. Once again, the policy says the company stores them on its servers to improve the overall platform.

The longer you use Siri and Dictation, the better they understand you and the better they work. To help them recognize your pronunciation and provide better responses, certain user data such as your name, contacts, and songs in your music library is sent to Apple servers using encrypted protocols. That said, Siri and Dictation do not associate this information with your Apple ID, but rather with your device through a random identifier. You can reset that identifier at any time by turning Siri and Dictation off and back on, effectively restarting your relationship with Siri and Dictation. When you turn Siri and Dictation off, Apple will delete the User Data associated with your Siri identifier, and the learning process will start all over again.

If Location Services is turned on, the location of the device at the time of the request is also sent to Apple to improve accuracy, it says. This feature, of course, can be turned off at any time in a mobile device’s Privacy settings.

“Some voice commands, such as ‘Xbox On,’ are processed on the console,” the policy page reads. “Microsoft does not access or store peer-to-peer audio or video chat data including Skype calls.”

Users can also allow Kinect to identify their face and enable automatic sign-in to an Xbox Live profile. “This data, which consists of a long series of numbers, is stored on your console and is not returned to Microsoft.”

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s voice assistant, Cortana, records voice requests and other information, such as the names of your contacts, how often you call them, the titles of your calendar events and words you’ve added to the dictionary. It says it does this to “build personalized speech models and improve speech recognition.”

The takeaway
While the major companies are collecting and storing different types of data, the message across the board is that it’s secure and used mostly for research to enhance the overall experience.

It’s clear that companies like Samsung are always listening, just waiting for verbal requests, and the devices and software aren’t spying on users. Yes, data collected from voice recognition technology is often sent to third-party providers, but this is only for specific data sets (again, you can’t get local TV listings without the help of a third-party provider with access to those details), and this is common among voice recognition services.

While there’s little cause for alarm about what Samsung and others are doing, it’s a good reminder for users to stay educated and companies to stay transparent about data use. Consumers need to feel comfortable and not afraid of the power of their devices.

A Samsung SmartTV allows owners to use voice recognition software to make requests. IMAGE: MASHABLE, CHRISTINA ASCANI
SmartTVs are among the many devices that incorporate voice recognition software.
Microsoft stresses that it collects gaming console data, including voice commands, to “continuously improve Kinect and Xbox One performance.”

For more on this story go to: http://mashable.com/2015/02/10/smart-devices-listening/?utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Mashable+%28Mashable%29&utm_cid=Mash-Prod-RSS-Feedburner-All-Partial&utm_medium=feed&utm_source=feedburner&utm_content=Google+Feedfetcher

Related story:
Samsung swears its smart TVs aren’t eavesdropping on you
By Jon Fingas From engadget
Over the weekend, quite a few people panicked at the phrasing of Samsung’s smart TV privacy policy. Its warning that third parties would get your sensitive spoken info conjured up images of Orwellian telescreens spying on their viewers. The reaction was largely paranoia (this was just a description of standard cloud-based voice recognition), but the company isn’t leaving anything to chance — it posted a retort that denies any eavesdropping and clarifies what its screens are really doing. As Samsung explains, neither the TV’s mic nor the one in your remote are monitoring everything you say. The TV only listens for a predetermined set of commands, while the controller won’t handle more sophisticated requests (such as asking for movie advice) until you hit a button.
The explanation isn’t perfect (how long is that information stored, for example?), but it doesn’t leave much room for debate. However, it also suggests that smart TV makers haven’t finished tackling the privacy concerns that have plagued them since at least 2013. Unless every manufacturer both respects privacy and is clear about what’s happening, there may always be a nagging suspicion that these smart sets are too nosy.
IMAGE: Samsung’s CES 2015 booth: loads of TVs
For more on this story go to: http://www.engadget.com/2015/02/10/samsung-denies-smart-tv-eavesdropping/?ncid=rss_truncated

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