Is Your Smart TV “Spying” on You? EPIC Files FTC Complaint Against Samsung

Electronic Privacy Information Center and FTCPrivacy group, EPIC, which has previously filed FTC complaints against Google and Facebook, has now complained that Samsung is snooping on its Smart-TV owners. Samsung drew big attention recently when it was revealed that the South Korean company could be recording conversations in owners’ homes. The complaint alleges that when enabled, the Smart-TVs’ voice recognition feature records and transmits the recorded data to a third party, “regardless of whether it is related to the provision of the service.” The complaint goes on by saying that once Samsung has sent the recorded data to a third party, Samsung has said it is no longer responsible for the privacy and security of the consumers’ data. Specifically, EPIC wrote, “Samsung routinely intercepts and records the private communications of consumers in their homes,” and “Samsung’s attempts to disclaim its intrusive surveillance activities by means of a ‘privacy notice’ do not diminish the harm to American consumers.”

Samsung has defended their use of the program, claiming that it only records consumers’ communications when the voice recognition button is pushed, and that all recorded data is encrypted before it is sent to the third party, which Samsung has identified as Nuance.   Samsung has said about EPIC’s complaint, “The claims made by EPIC are not correct and do not reflect the actual features of our Smart-TV. Samsung takes consumer privacy very seriously and our products are designed with privacy in mind.”

However, some of Samsung’s claims have already been shown to be untrue. In fact, as EPIC writes in their complaint, “Samsung later conceded that the company does not encrypt all the voice recordings it transmits,” and “Samsung also admitted it has not deployed the software necessary to encrypt plaintext transmissions.” As a result, much of the recorded data collected by Samsung was unsecure and privacy researchers had been able to decode the audio and replay whatever the Smart-TVs had overheard.

Samsung Smart-TVs aren’t the only devices in consumers’ homes that are capable of voice detection, and makers of those will be interested to see what action, if any, the FTC takes towards Samsung. This case only highlights the emerging presence of the “Internet of Things” in our daily lives, which is likely to only increase the issues surrounding consumer data and privacy. The “Internet of Things” promises to become a reality in the next five years, making everything that was once “dumb” and unconnected to the Internet intelligent and able to collect and use private data. The FTC has already issued its own report concerning the “Internet of Things,” and EPIC’s complaint only signals a further interest in how consumers’ data is being secured in an ever-increasing “Smart-World.”