Feb 9, 2015 · 1 minute

Samsung has warned consumers that its smart televisions send information to third parties. Because people can ask the televisions to do something with their voices, much like Apple's Siri or Google Now, information pertaining to "spoken words" is among this shared dataset.

This sparked a controversy in which the Daily Beast's Shane Harris warned against talking about felonies in front of a smart television set and Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Parker Higgins compared Samsung's privacy policy to (what else?) George Orwell's "1984."

The criticisms led Samsung to tell the Guardian it "takes consumer privacy very seriously" and that it "does not retain voice data or sell it to third parties"; its privacy policy refers only to voice data that is "provided to a third party during a requested voice command search."

So, should people worry that their television sets might be selling their every utterance to advertisers, or providing sensitive information to intelligence agencies? Betteridge's law of headlines suggests my answer will be "no," but it's actually the wishy-washy "it depends."

Using voice data to improve a product isn't a novel concept. Voice controls are built into most consumer smartphones and desktop operating systems. Google has added 'em to its Web browser, and Amazon made a "smart" speaker that listens to its owner's every word.

Those products only work if they can send information to a third party. Nobody wants a virtual assistant limited that can only communicate with its parent company. They want to search a variety of websites and interact with various services with nothing but their voices.

In that sense, these smart televisions are simply a logical extension of a popular trend. If you're going to worry about them, you'll also need to worry about your smartphone, tablet, personal computer, speaker, Web browser, and any other product featuring voice controls.

If you're anything like me, you worry about all those things, and more. But I suspect most consumers won't be too worried about Samsung's television sets when they're just like all the other products with which people are surrounded every moment of their waking lives.

[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]