We Have More To Worry About Than Samsung's Smart TV Privacy Policy

The world has gone nuts today, over a story that says Samsung is spying on us in our living rooms via its Smart TV software. Lines have been drawn between a scary caveat in a privacy policy and George Orwell's 1984, and we're being warned about how we're losing ourselves to technology all over again. Don't be foolish, guys: your privacy vanished a long time ago.

In case you're new to this story, here's what happened earlier.

Over the weekend, someone spotted a clause in Samsung's Smart TV privacy policy which stated that stuff you talk about in front of your TV gets sent to third parties to be stored and processed. Twitter users then compared the policy to an excerpt from George Orwell's 1984, which freaked everyone right out.

Here's the tweet:

And for those playing at home, here's the full clause:

“You can control your SmartTV, and use many of its features, with voice commands. If you enable Voice Recognition, you can interact with your Smart TV using your voice. To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service that converts speech to text or to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you.
 
In addition, Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. 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.”

In layman's terms, that means the Samsung Smart TV is listening to your voice and sending what it hears off to a "third-party provider" for processing — that third party is an intermediary service that figures out exactly what you said and converts it into data that the TV can use and act on. If you say "change to ABC News 24" to your TV (under the right circumstances), it will record that snippet of audio, transmit that to a third party, receive a data response, interpret that data, and then dutifully change your channel accordingly.

As we pointed out yesterday, Samsung isn't the only tech company that has this kind of clause in its privacy policy. LG has one too, and we went through a similar saga back in 2013 over its "eavesdropping" in the living room. Do you use Siri? She's doing exactly the same thing.

I'm not about to defend these companies for their third-party data handling. LG has an ad unit on its old Smart TV dashboard that markets products to you, and services like Facebook and Twitter sell your data to advertisers as their primary business model. It's how these companies make a large portion of their income. It's happening everywhere, whether you know it explicitly or not.

Read more: Why Is My Digital Assistant So Creepy?

But then — that's the whole point, isn't it? We're getting all bent out of shape about our TVs potentially spying on us when we willingly hand over much more personally identifiable and abstractly valuable data to services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Uber et al. We have much more to worry about than a poorly worded clause in a Samsung Smart TV usage policy.

What about the Federal Government's proposed data retention program that would see all of our metadata sucked up in the name of national security? What about our smartphones tracking our location in the background for innocuous reasons? What about our transit cards that create a map of everywhere we've been for later use? What about all the terms and conditions documents you just mindlessly and habitually agree to when you're installing new software?

All of these things have been happening for years, and it's a simple and relatively innocuous terms and conditions document shared on social media — which also harvests your data, by the way — that gets our collective back up about privacy?

The reason people are freaking out about the Samsung privacy policy "issue" is not because they're concerned about protecting their own privacy. It's because it makes people realise their privacy was traded for convenience and flashy gadgets years ago, and they just clicked "Accept".

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