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UPDATE “Criminal” LG Smart TVs Caught Spying on UK Internet Users

Thursday, November 21st, 2013 (8:01 am) - Score 1,782
lg_smart_tv_internet_spying

The Director of broadband ISP Andrews & Arnold (AAISP), Adrian Kennard, has criticised electronics giant LG after it was revealed that at least some of the firms internet-enabled smart televisions were collecting and sending a wealth of their owners personal viewing habits and other content to a remote collection server, with no way to disable it.

The problem was first uncovered by IT blogger DoctorBeet whom noted that LG’s Smart Ad technology, which “analyses users favourite programs, online behaviour, search keywords and other information to offer relevant ads to target audiences“, was linked to an interesting new “option” in the menu system labelled ‘Collection of watching info‘ (setting choices ‘On’ or ‘Off’).

The “option” itself is not explained by LG’s User Interface (UI) but upon further investigation the IT consultant discovered that unencrypted information about the owners viewing habits were being sent back to LG’s remote servers. On top of that this occurred regardless of whether the “option” was set to On or Off (hence why we keep typing “option” in speech marks).

The tracking would occur every time the owner switched channels and on top of that the data being sent back to LG also included file and folder names that had been stored on the owners external USB flash drive (storage) and plugged into to the TV. At present though this particular piece of information is at least being sent to a web address (URL) that doesn’t exist (though it could be added later).

LG UK’s Helpdesk (Initial Response to the Complaint):

The advice we have been given is that unfortunately as you accepted the Terms and Conditions on your TV, your concerns would be best directed to the retailer. We understand you feel you should have been made aware of these T’s and C’s at the point of sale, and for obvious reasons LG are unable to pass comment on their actions.

We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause you. If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact us again.”

The situation also seems to vary slightly between TV models. The boss of AAISP has reported suffering the same issue except that his LG TV (pictured alongside this article) actually has the ‘Collection of watching info’ option greyed out and thus permanently set to the ‘On’ position.

Adrian Kennard said:

There are legal issues here. If I, as the installer, click “accept” on some LG terms that allow details of my viewing to be sent, I cannot necessarily enter in to any contract on behalf of other users of the TV in my household. If they change channel and the TV tells LG, that may be a criminal offence by LG for that to have happened as they have no consent to such data collection from that person. Criminal!

The situation has since begun to gain some traction in the media and as a result LG’s official response is that customer privacy has now become “a top priority“. A spokesperson for the firm said that the issue was being taken “very seriously” and that they’re “looking into reports that certain viewing information on LG Smart TVs was shared without consent“. As usual the big firms only start to care about customers when the media gets involved.

Meanwhile Adrian Kennard has since pointed out that the UK’s Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 BANS sellers or suppliers from “[altering] the terms of the contract unilaterally without a valid reason which is specified in the contract” and also “[altering] unilaterally without a valid reason any characteristics of the product or service to be provided

Thankfully many consumers now own home broadband routers that allow specific websites to be blocked and those wishing to stop their LG Smart TV from calling home with their personal viewing habits and file names might thus wish to consider adding these URL addresses to that list: ad.lgappstv.com , yumenetworks.com, smartclip.net , smartclip.com, llnwd.net, smartshare.lgtvsdp.com and ibis.lgappstv.com .

UPDATE 22nd November 2013

LG has now said that “a firmware update is being prepared for immediate rollout that will correct this problem on all affected LG Smart TVs so when this feature is disabled, no data will be transmitted“. No ETA has been given.

The situation has also caused a spotlight to be shone on other popular electronics devices that perform similar tracking, such as Sony’s PlayStation 3 console that collects data about the movies you watch.

Leave a Comment
8 Responses
  1. timeless says:

    l wonder if the government will want access to any content they record? lol.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Maybe they’ll ask TV manufactures to block people from loading adult movies off their USB drives :). I joke but.. well you never know. Censorship in the UK is clearly only going in one direction.

    2. Ignitionnet says:

      They’ll probably have hoovered it up while in transit to LG so they’re all good.

    3. timeless says:

      l dont think marks comment is so far fetched, this government wants to control everything, and they will propose any reason so they will be able to.

  2. dragoneast says:

    Um, the line of “old” parking cases establish that you can’t be bound by terms and conditions which you have no way of knowing about. So where do you find these terms and conditions at the point of sale? They’d have to argue that “smart” means it’s got the communicate back to base, but with what exactly . . . everything? Buyers need to think. But they don’t care . . . do they?

  3. dragoneast says:

    As always, “smart” means the machine, not the human.

  4. Kyle says:

    Is that a genuine response from LG?! That’s truly shocking. The customer of a product raises issues regarding the software on the said product that LG have installed and somehow that is the retailer’s issue?

    Why is it also ‘unfortunate’ that the T&Cs were accepted? Is that an admission of guilt? I’d love to know how exactly LG would even start to defend their poor response and expect a retailer to advise you that LG will collect the usage of your device. In fact, if this actually happened, I don’t think LG would be selling many TVs!

  5. Spilt Milk says:

    Can be disabled on most LG TVs by entering the Engineer/Service menus. Key presses vary depending on model.

    This is also not a new occurrence Sony for example have been doing a similar thing for years with the PS3. That collects info about anything you do online, last thing you ran on the system and what files have been loaded from USB. Of course they claim it is to prevent piracy and hacking.

    Sky, BT and Virgin also (despite what a predictable chap is going to pop up and say as something negative about BT has been mentioned) have all also previously collected TV viewing habbits from their boxes.

    It is not nice but it is also nothing new.

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