LG Smart TVs Are So Smart, They Might Be Spying On You While You Change Channels

Is this the start of the humans vs. machine war, where our smart devices decide they’ve had enough of sitting back and watching our species click around on TVs and swipe our phones and just revolt? Let’s hope not, but a blogger in England does think he’s figured out that LG Smart TVs are so smart, they’re actually spying on us.

A blogger who calls himself DoctorBeet wrote in a blog post earlier this week that he’d run a traffic analysis on his home router and found that whenever he switched the channel, his LG Smart TV would ping LG’s servers with the name of the channel, along with his TV’s individual identification number.

So whenever he switched from say, the BBC to Scuzz, his TV would report back to the mothership. Err, LG. Even when he went to his TV settings and switched the “Collection of watching info” that was set to “on” by default to “off,” it still sent that information to LG’s servers.

“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,” he writes.

The company touts this ability to advertisers, as it allows marketers to target ads according to what the person watching the TV might like, based on your favorite channels. DoctorBeet found examples of this in a corporate video:

LG Smart Ad analyses users favourite programs, online behaviour, search keywords and other information to offer relevant ads to target audiences. For example, LG Smart Ad can feature sharp suits to men, or alluring cosmetics and fragrances to women.

Furthermore, LG Smart Ad offers useful and various advertising performance reports. That live broadcasting ads cannot. To accurately identify actual advertising effectiveness.

But that’s not all, DoctorBeet writes. Sometimes his TV would upload the names of personal files he’d stored on an external USB drive that was plugged into the TV. Even though the upload didn’t include the actual files, those names could relay private information, like a video with his kids’ names as the title. He tested it out by creating a file name called “midget_porn.”

“This file didn’t really contain ‘midget porn’ at all, I renamed it to make sure it had a unique filename that I could spot easily in the data and one that was unlikely to come from a broadcast source,” he explains. “And sure enough, there it was…”

He points out that it seems the collection URL this info is being sent to doesn’t actually exist at the moment, what’s to stop LG from enabling it tomorrow?

He contacted the UK branch of LG about his concerns and basically received a “Shrug, read the fine print next time” response.

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.

While the model he owns, the LG 42LN575V appears to be only in the UK, it’s still a somewhat troubling thing that consumers everywhere should be aware of before they purchase a smart TV.

Engadget brought up DoctorBeet’s work to LG and received this statement:

We’re looking into this now. We take these claims very seriously and are currently investigating the situation at numerous local levels since our Smart TVs differ in features and functions from one market to another. We work hard to get privacy right and have made this our top priority.

It’s worth checking your own LG Smart TV to see if it has the “collection of watching info” option in its settings. But if turning it off doesn’t do anything, it’s up to LG to decide whether or not it wants to change its TVs so off really means off, or just keep collecting info whether you want it to or not.

LG Smart TVs logging USB filenames and viewing info to LG servers [DoctorBeet]
LG Smart TVs could be collecting personal data, even if you tell them not to [Engadget]

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