Speak up — the TV is listening

A new TV from Samsung has Shazam built in to its Smart Hub menu, helping viewers identify songs on their favourite TV shows.

The Shazam app has been showing up on smartphones for a few years now, either as an app automatically loaded on a new phone or one downloaded by choice. It’s incredibly helpful – just open the app, hold it in front of a speaker or sing a few bars and the name of the song and the artist are right there in the palm of your hands.

Samsung wants to take this one step further, of course, because science and technology and we need to know everything instantly all the time.

Forget “Ask Jeeves,” just speak into the TV remote

Say you’re watching the excellent PBS series “Soundbreaking” about the history of the music industry from the 1950s through 2010. A great song comes on by an older blues or R&B artist and you can’t for the life of you remember who it is.

With Samsung’s new smart TVs, a user would simply pick up the remote, turn on the voice function and ask Shazam to identify the song. It will work equally well with music in movies from DVDs or Blu-Ray discs or streaming over HDMI connections.

When will the TV stop listening? Does it shut off the voice recognition function as soon as the question is answered? It’s not clear. The point at which a smart TV with voice-activated technology turns itself off is a little murky. Also unclear is whether or where information spoken to a TV is stored, and if it is stored, who has access to those records and for what purposes it might be used.

Not to get all cranky “get off my lawn” grumpy old lady about this, but it is a serious question. It’s also something that could pose a privacy concern as more technologies within the home become “smart.”

Watch the lawsuits roll in

Did you hear about how Vizio had to pay the US Federal Trade Commission $2.2 million earlier this year? The fine was a settlement between Vizio and the government agency because it was, in essence, spying on its customers.

“As it turns out, those same TVs were also busily tracking what their owners were watching and shuttling that data back to the company’s servers, where it would be sold to eager advertisers.”

They’re not alone, by the way.

“That’s every big as gross as it sounds, but Vizio’s offense was one of degree, not of kind,” Wired noted. “While other smart TV platforms don’t sell your viewing data at the IP level to the highest bidder without consent, like Vizio did, many do track your habits on at least some level. And even the companies that have moved on from ACR – like LG when it embraced webOS—have older models that liberally snoop.”

Many of these functionalities are automatically turned on when a new TV is purchased. Most often, consumers have zero idea this is happening and that their information could be recorded and shared without their knowledge or consent. Instead of having to opt in, they have to opt out of something of which they might be blissfully unaware.

It can be turned off by going into your TV’s settings and disabling them, but how hard is it to turn off something if you didn’t know it was there and on to begin with?

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