Smart TVs Phoning Home with Viewing Preferences & Filenames


LG smart TVIt’s important to note that this story relates specifically to a smart TV manufactured by the LG company. Still, working on the ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’ principle, it does tend to cast a shadow of doubt over the entire industry.

An LG customer living in the UK has discovered that his recently purchased smart TV is collecting and transmitting data relating to viewing habits back to the LG servers. The collected data includes a unique device ID which is associated with each channel change and also includes filenames viewed via connected USB devices. The man, who has published his findings under the pseudonym “DoctorBeet”, is obviously a little bit smarter than his smart TV. He tested his findings by loading a mock AVI file onto a USB drive and connecting it to his LG TV. Sure enough, there was the name of the file included in the ensuing data stream.

Apparently, this particular TV model includes an option to turn off the data collection feature but, remarkably, setting it to “Off” did not change the behavior at all. This from DoctorBeet:

There is an option in the system settings called “Collection of watching info:” which is set ON by default.  This setting requires the user to scroll down to see it and, unlike most other settings, contains no “balloon help” to describe what it does. It turns out that viewing information appears to be being sent regardless of whether this option is set to On or Off.

Obviously DoctorBeet is a little perturbed by these findings, especially that the data is seemingly being collected without the consumer’s knowledge or permission, which could definitely be construed as being an invasion of privacy. As a result, DoctorBeet expressed his concerns to LG and received the following typical ‘pass the buck’ response:

Thank you for your e-mail.

Further to our previous email to yourself, we have escalated the issues you reported to LG’s UK Head Office

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.

UPDATE


Following on from DoctorBeet’s revelations, another LG consumer has also come forward with very similar findings, revealing that his TV is additionally pulling filenames from shared folders over his home network and broadcasting those as well.

About the Author

Jim Hillier

Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at DCT. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele... as well as writing for DCT, of course.

2 Comments

  1. What their response says is tantamount to admission if the answer were “no we don’t collect this data” then I am sure that they would be delighted to have given it. I very much doubt their claim that the retailer was responsible for pointing out detail like this in the terms and conditions would hold much water in a UK court. Do they make their retailers aware of this obligation? Do they make consumers aware of the obligation? It has set me thinking because I recently bought a Samsung Smart TV and I am now wondering what they might be collecting data wise. I would guess that some data collection about usage from apps is probably no different to mobile phones but I cant imagine anyfair condition that would send details of content stored on my own network. It is high time that companies had to submit their T&Cs to an independent body for approval that would either say they are unfair and therefor unenforcable or stipulate how the conditions are advertised in a clear summary, Are we expected to submit every set of T&C to a solicitor to explain the implications before we make a purchase.
    I would also doubt that anywhere on the transaction document does it refer to manufacturers terms and conditions – one get out they have are the returnable warranty cards – you can find yourself agreeing to all sorts of things by returning those – Tear them up it is the retailer who is in contract with you and who must deal with any issues (no matter what they try and tell you)

  2. Why is it that only LG gets bad press about using Smart TV’s to spy on people ?

    I would like to put the record straight on this matter.

    Samsung TVs are even worse than LG when it comes to spying and I did try to put the word out using Twitter but it now seems that twitter take bribes to silence people and most the tweets never got out as can be seen if you open a second twitter account and check

    Samsung is a few steps ahead of LG when it comes to spying and the way that I captured the data was to hijack the DNS server to force my Samsung TV to use a proxy server.

    As soon as you switch a Samsung TV on it connects with Korea and uploads the TV’s unique MAC address and then connects to Google,Twitter plus others and sends them a HTTP user-agent so that they know that a Samsung TV is connecting to them and they also know your IP address.

    All Google,Twitter need to do now is contact Samsung with the IP and Samsung can give them your name, address and anything else they know about you because they guarantee the TV and have your details.

    This all happens within a second of you switching your TV on and with no apps running.

    It gets worse and Samsung uses SSL to upload information but they don’t use the usual HTTPS CONNECT but instead open a connection and listen for a reply without using the usual handshake.

    These TV’s also scan your network using various protocols like SDDP:1900 to access drives and machines plus an odd one using port 7676.

    No wonder Samsung did not build the option of using a proxy server into these TV’s because that would make it too easy to spot that Samsung is doing evil.

    What’s strange is that when you do a Google for “TV spying on people” all that Google brings up is links about LG TV’s as if no one in the world knows about Samsung so maybe good PR is the price Google pays Samsung for having these TV connect to Google and in return Samsung gives them your details free of charge.

    I could go on but the post would end up being bigger then the blog.

    Best Regards