POSTED BY Jessica Gray

Imagine you are in the living room watching TV with a couple friends, David and Anna. David notices you are wearing a new sweater and compliments you on its design. You smirk and tell him you got it at Macy’s. David then gets up to go use the bathroom and while he is gone, you turn to Anna and say, “I didn’t pay a dime for this sweater. I stole it from Macy’s and felt like such a rebel!” You and Anna both share a laugh before David returns to the living room. David may never know about your shop lifting confession to Anna, but does anyone else know what you said? No one was in the house besides you, David, and Anna, but is it possible there was someone or something in the living room that overheard your conversation? Sure, you were talking in front of the TV, but did you know that TV could be capturing your conversation and transmitting it to an unknown third party? In today’s world of technology, it is very possible. In fact, it is already happening.

Samsung’s smart TVs essentially give people the ability to control their TV by orally telling the TV what to do, rather than through the use of a remote. The convenience factor seems quite appealing at first glance, but there is a lot more going on besides commanding a TV to perform certain functions. Samsung has recently come under fire for its privacy policy, which has people worried that their private conversations in front of the TV are no longer as private as they once believed. Under the “Voice recognition” section of Samsung’s privacy policy, it states that “Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts… 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 has been vague as to who exactly these third parties are. Although Samsung has stolen the spotlight for this major privacy concern, LG Electronics also states in its privacy policy that voice information may be transferred and used by third party service providers. While technology has allowed society to move forward, it may also have simultaneously sacrificed the privacy people have been accustomed to have in their own homes.

The Third Party Doctrine holds that a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he or she voluntarily turns over to third parties. Although we do not expect our conversations to be monitored and overheard, companies like Samsung may be able to point to their privacy policy and user agreement as proof that the customer has voluntarily consented in providing voice recordings to third parties. The idea that the government is always watching its citizens and listening in on their conversations has been a constant concern in the past several years. However, Samsung’s Smart TVs may have taken invasion of privacy to a new and dangerous level. If the government wanted to acquire the communications collected and stored by Samsung, it may easily be able to do this legally through the Third Party Doctrine. By simply purchasing and using a Samsung Smart TV, customers are essentially agreeing to have their conversations transferred to an unknown third party. Although the negative public reaction to this is very strong, the government may be excited about another outlet with the ability to pin criminal suspects. Hypothetically, if a government agency such as the FBI was aware that a suspect bought a Samsung Smart TV for his own home, then law enforcement could send a subpoena to Samsung requesting any and all voice recordings it had from the suspect’s TV. Perhaps the suspect would have revealing conversations in front of the TV about criminal activity that would provide the FBI with more evidence. However, in order to do this, the FBI would need the TV’s specific ID number, which may be hard to acquire without a search warrant. An ideal situation for law enforcement would be the combination of a standard home search with the collection of the voice recognition data. It seems as though Samsung’s Smart TV’s voice recognition is more of a benefit to government agencies and more of a burden to the customers. It is most certainly worrisome that the government’s watchful eye over its people continues to widen, yet the average citizen’s ability to maintain his or her privacy continues to decline.


About Me: Jessica is a Staff Member of the Journal of High Technology Law. She is currently a 2L at Suffolk Law and graduated from Wheaton College (MA) with a B.A. in sociology.


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