Your Smart TV Can Hear You: Pros & Cons of Voice Recognition Technology

Did you know the new smart TV you got for Christmas can hear you? Buried in the fine print of Samsung’s privacy policy statement is a disclosure that if you enable your smart TV’s voice recognition feature, some voice commands and information about your device may be transmitted to Samsung’s speech-to-text service provider. This disclosure went quietly unnoticed until it was publicized in February 2015 by the Daily Beast. Controversy followed, with Samsung insisting that its voice recognition feature does not monitor living room conversations, but only specific interactions with the TV’s voice recognition service.

However, the potential for abuse of such technology remains. Samsung’s smart TV voice recognition, Siri, Google’s voice search, Xbox’s Kinect and Amazon’s Echo speaker are among the growing range of listening devices. Know the pros and cons of activating such features on this new technology.

On the Pro Side


Smart TV voice recognition and similar technologies offer consumers a number of distinct advantages. For many years, consumers have used tape recorders to record dictation, conversations and music. In recent years, handheld digital voice recorders have become a convenient means of recording reminders, documenting conversations and sharing recordings. A smart TV could serve the same purpose, serving as a digital recorder that can function in connection with a wireless network for sharing recordings between devices. For instance, while your family is sitting in the TV room with your newborn baby, you could record the occasion and send the recording to your computer for archiving.


Another potential advantage of smart TV voice recognition is the ability to empower communication. Samsung’s smart TV supports a Skype app that lets you use your TV’s screen and microphone for video calling. Earlier this year, Skype updated the app to support 1080p HD resolution and group calls with up to two other participants.

Voice command

Support for voice-activated commands is another beneficial application of smart TV voice recognition capability. Samsung’s voice control feature lets users verbally activate TV functions such as turning the set on and off, changing channels and changing volume. In addition, voice control can be used to access apps and navigate the Web. In conjunction with a smart home network, this potentially allows consumers to use their TV to control home features such as lighting adjustment, climate control and home security system activation.

On the Con Side

Privacy issues

The benefits of TV voice recognition come with privacy risks. Your smart TV can potentially not only record voice commands you give your set, but also take pictures, recognize faces and record information, such as how long you watch your TV, what you watch, what websites you visit and what apps you use. With mobile payments becoming increasingly common, this information could conceivably include verbally transmitted credit card data.

Some smart TVs share such information without even as much disclosure as Samsung. For instance, unlike Samsung and most other manufacturers, VIZIO has its televisions set by default to opt viewers into sharing of information about their viewing habits with third-party advertisers.

Legal questions

VIZIO faces six pending class-action suits alleging invasion of privacy as of December 2015. Other legal challenges to smart TV information collection technology seem likely to arise. Under the Federal Wiretap Act, it is illegal to secretly record a private conversation unless at least one party has given consent or the recorder is an authorized law enforcement agent, on penalty of up to five years in prison, a $500 fine, or both. Some states have even stricter laws.

Because of this, most smart TVs require you to activate voice recognition features, and they give you the option of deactivating these features. However, even if you’ve personally given your consent to activate these features, if you use your TV to record other people without their consent, the legal situation becomes complex. Consider these issues when using your smart TV’s voice features.