But Samsung's televisions are far from the only seeing-and-listening devices coming into our lives. If we're going to freak out about a Samsung TV that listens in on our living rooms, we should also be panicking about a number of other emergent gadgets that capture voice and visual data in many of the same ways.
The LG Smart TV
Microsoft's Kinect is another example of a privacy worry in a box. A recent New Yorker article about companies' desires to start using cameras in televisions and elsewhere to detect our emotional states highlighted just how intrusive the Xbox One is thanks to the Kinect camera it contains:
Microsoft’s Xbox One system has a high-definition camera that can monitor players at thirty frames per second. Using a technology called Time of Flight, it can track the movement of individual photons, picking up minute alterations in a viewer’s skin color to measure blood flow, then calculate changes in heart rate. The software can monitor six people simultaneously, in visible or infrared light, charting their gaze and their basic emotional states.
Not to be left out of the smart home revolution, Amazon released this year a home assistant called Echo, which is "designed around your voice." While the Echo — a canister-shaped speaker with a microphone embedded inside — is listening to you all the time, Amazon's FAQ claims that the device is only interested in recording and transmitting what you say when it hears a "wake word," such as "Alexa," the device's default name. When the wake word is uttered, Amazon says, the Echo transmits the voice input that follows, as well as the voice input from "a fraction of a second" before.
Chevrolet's MyLink and PDRs
In 2015, Chevrolet produced 18 cars that can be equipped with MyLink technology. MyLink allows drivers to have hands-free voice controlled access to their radio systems and connect their phones to the on-board audio system, if they so choose. The technology, which is triggered by voice recognition, is powered by the Nuance Company, and is one of many forms of voice recognition in motorized vehicles, (Intellilink is another example.)
Viewed in light of all the other data-transmitting gadgets and apps we've invited into our lives, Samsung's SmartTV debacle looks like just the tip of the privacy iceberg — and the beginning of a conversation consumers and regulators will need to have about how to treat these devices and the information they capture. Perhaps Samsung's public flogging came about because it was too honest about the implications of bringing a TV with ears and eyes into your home. Next time, the company should just point to all the other spying gadgets on the market and shrug.