Photo credit: Samsung Tomorrow

Photo credit: Samsung Tomorrow

For the superstitious, and conspiracy theorists, an Orwellian revelation on this Friday the 13th of February. As reported last week by the Daily Beast, Samsung, the world’s no. 1 manufacturer of HDTVs, is warning customers who use voice commands to control their smart TVs that if they speak “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.” So, “What’s the big deal,” you ask? Essentially, Samsung has given notice that their smart TVs have the capability of capturing and transmitting every word that is spoken within range of the device. Although this is something many of us knew, or at least suspected, now it’s out it in the open.

So be advised: If you’re too lazy to pick up the remote, you may want to keep your conversation with the TV as direct and non-incriminating as possible. Don’t talk about tax evasion, drug use. And definitely don’t try out your Violet Crawley impression.

In theory, that means a private telephone or in-person conversation that you have with another individual could be recorded and sent to an unidentified third party for transcription and voice recognition analysis. The subject of your conversation could be anything from an argument with your spouse, children, or business partner. It could include sensitive salary or financial information, and even credit card numbers—haven’t you ever paid for pizza, sushi, or Chinese-food delivery using plastic? Maybe there are Apple employees with Samsung Smart TVs—that would explain how the upcoming iPhone designs keep getting leaked to the media in advance of release.

Samsung issued a response to the news about its recently discovered privacy policy, saying that they take their customers’ privacy “very seriously,” and that they use “industry-standard security safeguards and practices, including data encryption, to secure consumers’ personal information and prevent unauthorized collection or use.” But now that we know this data is out there, everybody knows it’s out there, including banks, insurance companies, employers, the government, and the data brokers who collect and sell the most intimate details of consumers’ lives to those organizations. It’s bad enough that it’s possible to mine data containing consumers’ television viewing habits, but now we have to worry about private conversations that we have in—what we believe to be—the privacy of our own homes. If we can’t even be certain of our privacy when we’re in our own homes, what’s left of privacy at all? Why even bother keeping the Fourth Amendment (what’s left of it)?

Of course, you can turn off the voice recognition feature(s) on the TV, but then you’re not taking advantage of one of its most convenient and advanced functions, not to mention that even that doesn’t completely solve the problem. Here’s what Samsung says in its privacy policy about what happens when you turn off voice recognition: “While Samsung will not collect your spoken word, Samsung may still collect associated texts and other usage data so that we can evaluate the performance of the feature and improve it.”

And that’s just Samsung. What about all the other HDTV brands, not to mention voice activated GPS devices, Xbox, and even Siri? What speech are they capturing and transmitting to third parties? If we don’t take steps to protect our privacy, we might find ourselves living in a world where our insurance rates are higher because, based on things said in our living rooms, we are deemed to engage in risky behavior, or we are passed up for a promotion at work because we criticize our superiors when telling our spouses about our workday.