Smart TV sets from LG could be gathering data about owners’ viewing habits and sending it back to the company, and similar sets by other companies have privacy experts concerned, too.
The British government is investigating a complaint that Smart TV sets are sending data to LG — even after the owners turned on a privacy setting designed to turn off data collection.
Smart TVs are new types of televisions that are made specifically for streaming video via the Internet. One man even found that his family’s pictures and videos had been uploaded to the company.
The complaint stems from charges made by a blogger who discovered an LG corporate video that detailed the company’s data collection efforts for a program called LG Smart Ad.
Blog LG Boasted of Collection of Watching Info
The corporate video is no longer posted at LG’s official website, but the blogger repeated some of what LG allegedly said about Smart Ad at his blog. The claims include:
- “LG Smart Ad analyzes favorite programs, online behavior, search keywords and other information to offer relevant ads to target audiences. For example, LG Smart Ad can feature sharp suits to me, or alluring cosmetics and fragrances to women.”
- “LG Smart Ad offers useful and various advertising performance reports to accurately identify actual advertising effectiveness.”
The blogger, known as DoctorBeet, examined an LG Smart TV set to discover what information it was sending back to the company. What he discovered was that the television collects data and sends it back to LG whether or not the “collection of watching info” privacy protection feature is activated or not.
“It turns out that viewing information appears to be being sent regardless of whether this option is set to On or Off,” DoctorBeet wrote. The BBC identified DoctorBeet as Jason Huntley, an IT consultant.
Smart TV Sent Family’s Pictures and Videos to LG Server
Huntley told the BBC that he became suspicious of LG after his Smart TV started showing tailored advertisements to his family. Huntley attached a hard drive to the set in an effort to figure out what was going on.
When he examined the data he discovered that collection of watching info had been turned on even though he thought he had turned it off. Huntley discovered that his Smart TV sent an encrypted file to LG every time he changed the channel.
Worse, Huntley discovered that some of his family’s media files had been sent to LG’s corporate servers. Information sent to LG included photographs of Huntley’s children with their names attached. Videos that the Huntley family was watching were also sent to LG’s servers. Huntley actually discovered some of his family’s videos on LG’s servers.
“It still sends the traffic but labels it saying I didn’t want it to be sent,” Huntley said of Smart TV. “It’s actually worse, I think, than if they’d offered the output in the first place since it allows the user to believe nothing is being sent.”
Huntley believes LG broke British law with Smart Ad and he complained to a government agency called the Information Commissioner’s Office. The office is looking into Huntley’s allegations. LG is also investigating Huntley’s complaints.
The company told the BBC:
Customer privacy is a top priority at LG Electronics and as such, we take this issue very seriously. We are looking into reports that certain viewing information on LG Smart TVs was shared without consent. LG offers many unique Smart TV models which differ in features and functions from one market to another, so we ask for your patience and understanding as we look into this matter.
How To Protect Yourself From Smart TV Spying
There’s good news and bad news about Smart TV data collection. Tom’s Hardware blogger Kevin Parrish discovered that Samsung’s Smart TV – note, not LG’s — doesn’t seem to contain any data collection features like those used by LG.
Unfortunately Parrish also discovered that purchasers of LG Smart TV sets sign an agreement authorizing such data collection. Sales contracts that retailers have purchasers sign apparently authorize data collection.
If that wasn’t bad enough Parrish discovered that the only way to stop an LG Smart TV from collecting data is to block the specific Internet domains the data is sent to. He lists the domains but doesn’t say how to block them. The domains are:
This story should remind us that Smart TVs and similar devices are actually computers connected to the internet. They can easily be turned into data collection devices that send information to companies and advertisers.