Careful what you say around Samsung’s Smart TVs

February 9, 2015, 11:30 PM UTC

If you want some privacy, you’d better step away from your television.

Samsung’s privacy policy for its SmartTV’s voice recognition control warns customers that the televisions may pick up personal information discussed nearby and then relay that information back to the company or 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,” the policy on Samsung’s website says.

The voice recognition feature allows users to operate their television with voice commands that can turn the device on or off, change the channel, or even perform an online search.

The Daily Beast reported on the warning last week, prompting an activist at digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation to tweet the policy while offering up an unfavorable comparison to George Orwell’s 1984:

Samsung on Monday attempted to defuse the situation by issuing a statement in which it promised that it uses “industry-standard security safeguards” to protect customer data.

“Samsung does not retain voice data or sell it to third parties,” a Samsung spokesperson said in the statement. “If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature, voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search. At that time, the voice data is sent to a server, which searches for the requested content then returns the desired content to the TV.”

The company also noted that users can disable the voice recognition feature as well as disconnect the television from the Internet.

The third-party with which Samsung works on processing voice commands is reportedly a voice recognition company called Nuance. Consumer Reports notes that the two companies announced a partnership in 2012 and The Wall Street Journal reported last year that Samsung might be in the running to buy Nuance, which provided some of the technology used in Apple’s (AAPL) personal assistant app, Siri.

UPDATE: Samsung issued a follow-up statement on Tuesday that included an updated privacy policy. The company said the new policy is intended to clarify aspects of the voice control feature and it includes the following new language: “Samsung 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.”

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