LG TVs Spying on Consumers

lg-smart-tv-spying-on-customersRecently, the maker of LG Electronics’ Smart TV admitted to collecting information on consumers’ viewing habits, apparently without consumer knowledge.

LG’s new line of Smart TVs collect viewer data to customize the advertising seen on their screens, according to Law Technology News. A blogger figured out what LG was doing by running a traffic analysis with his LG Smart TV and found that his viewing information was being sent to LG’s servers via his routers. The blogger posted information on his site showing and explaining that the TV works like a computer, collecting information in much the same way that cookies do.

The blogger, IT consultant Jason Huntley, found that his LG Smart TV continued to collect data despite his having activated the television’s privacy settings to stop that from occurring, according to Digital Trends. After conducting analysis of the data sent from his TV to LG’s servers, Huntley discovered that “viewing information appears to be being sent regardless of whether this option is set to On or Off,” he wrote on his blog. “This information appears to be sent back unencrypted and in the clear to LG every time you change channel, even if you have gone to the trouble of changing the setting above to switch collection of viewing information off.”

When the blogger connected a USB device to his LG smart TV, the file names on that device were collected and sent to LG, as well. “My wife was shocked to see our children’s names being transmitted in the name of a Christmas video file that we had watched from USB,” the blogger wrote, according to Law Technology News. This did not take place consistently, according to Digital Trends, but it took place often enough that Huntley was able to locate multiple examples of his file and folder names being sent to LG.

For it’s part, wrote Law Technology News, LG apologized when confronted and told the Baltimore Sun that it does not retain the collected information and promised it would update the Smart TVs with fix to enable viewers to disable the “feature.” LG told the International Business Times, “This information is collected as part of the Smart TV platform to deliver more relevant advertisements and to offer recommendations to viewers based on what other LG Smart TV owners are watching.”

The legality of collecting this information in this way is similar to the ongoing debate regarding cookies, which are information packets on Web surging habits that are tracked by advertisers and content providers, according to Law Technology News.

LG customer service was, according to Digital Trends, fairly dismissive when Huntley complained about the issue with the manufacturer’s privacy settings, advising him in an email that since he “accepted the Terms and Conditions on [his]TV,” there was nothing LG could do. Huntley said he did not ask about the leaking of file names as he assumed that he would receive a similarly dismissive response.

According to LG’s statement, “We have verified that even when this function is turned off by the viewers, it continues to transmit viewing information, although the data is not retained by the server,” adding that “no personal data was ever collected or retained.” Digital Trends pointed out that, “no data can be transmitted if the TV is not connected to the Internet.”

LG indicated that a firmware update will be released for impacted LG Smart TVs “that will correct this problem … so when this feature is disabled, no data will be transmitted.” No information was provided on the expected firmware delivery date and which LG Smart TV models are involved, according to Digital Trends.

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