In a world where very little is actually private, one would hope that TV privacy settings would not actually spy on people, or then again, maybe not. Well, LG Electronics is now looking into claims that its smart TVs violated user privacy settings and sent
on user viewing habits around the world.
These claims are coming from a technically-minded blogger who says that he has evidence that data packets containing his family's viewing habits were collected by LG. Along with actual TV program information, he says that LG collected the names of his various private video files that were connected to the TV via a USB device.
Violating User Choice
Since Smart TVs are connected to the Internet, they can be powerful tools for marketers or other companies looking to find out information regarding what people are watching and which time slot is most popular. However, many TVs (including LG's) include privacy settings that can be selected to ensure that data will not be collected or shared.
The UK-based blogger who discovered this issue made sure to check off that he wanted his information to remain private. From what he could tell, that decision made no difference to LG. It was as if he had said that it was OK for the company to collect data from his TV.
Using network traffic information, which is readily available to Internet users, the blogger found that anything he watched was recorded and then that data was sent to a specific Web address that appears to belong to LG.
In LG's defense, the URL included in the data collection logs does not seem to be active, which would suggest that the server is not actually storing a person's information. The blogger responded to this fact, stating, "Despite being missing at the moment, this collection URL could be implemented by LG on their server tomorrow, enabling them to start transparently collecting detailed information on what media files you have stored." Whether or not LG holds onto the information, it is still being transmitted in a format accessible to anyone on the network.
Taking It Further
TV viewing habits may technically be private and they should not be shared, but the real issue that the blogger talked about is the sharing of non-TV video file information.
When the blogger realized that the TV may have been sending information from USB devices, he renamed a media file on the USB drive to verify his suspicion. Sure enough, the new media file's name and information ended up leaving the TV and heading to the URL.
Similar claims against Smart TVs have been made toward Samsung's TVs and it appears to be something that can happen with any Internet-connected device. In response to the blogger's claims, LG was hesitant to say very much at all and opted to blame it on the retailer that sold the TV.
"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," said LG representatives in response to the blogger. "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."
Since this is only one claim from one individual, there is no reason to think that LG is spying on everyone's viewing habits. However, now that people know what to look for, more claims may surface.