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LG Smart TV spying whiplash: LG removes Smart Ad video and changes statement

Nov 26, 20135 mins
Data and Information SecurityDLP SoftwareMicrosoft

Brace yourself to avoid whiplash as LG released an official statement about LG Smart TV spying, then changed it on the privacy policy and removed LG Smart Ad video.

If you’ve been keeping an eye on LG Smart TV spying story, then you might have whiplash.

A second blogger and LG Smart TV owner wanted to know if his LG set was spying on him, but the firmware was different and his TV seemed to have no option to disable the logging of watching activity. The blogger, Mark, confirmed DoctorBeet’s findings about broadcasting filenames and wrote on Rambles:

I was seeing the same requests DoctorBeet was seeing when it was logging his media from a USB mounted drive, except I had no USB mounted drive plugged in. It turns out it was pulling filenames from my shared folders over the network and broadcasting those instead. I moved all the media out of the folder and put a few duds in named “GiantPorn”, turned the TV off and on and it was still broadcasting the old filenames.

In both cases a 404 was returned from LG servers, but Mark wrote:

Now the clear problem I see with this is even if I did agree to this in any T&Cs presented to me, I doubt guests I have round using my WIFI connection would be too happy with filenames from their shared media being dispatched to LG. Personally I’m not too happy that files you assume aren’t leaving the network are having their names broadcasted to LG, even worse so that it’s unencrypted.

Yet LG told security blogger Graham Cluley that since “our customers’ privacy is very important,” the company investigated the issue. LG concluded:

Information such as channel, TV platform, broadcast source, etc. that is collected by certain LG Smart TVs is not personal but viewing information. This information is collected as part of the Smart TV platform to deliver more relevant advertisements and to offer recommendations to viewers based on what other LG Smart TV owners are watching. We have verified that even when this function is turned off by the viewers, it continues to transmit viewing information although the data is not retained by the server. 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.

It has also been reported that the names of media files stored on external drives such as USB flash devices are being collected by LG Smart TVs. While the file names are not stored, the transmission of such file names was part of a new feature being readied to search for data from the internet (metadata) related to the program being watched in order to deliver a better viewing experience. This feature, however, was never fully implemented and no personal data was ever collected or retained. This feature will also be removed from affected LG Smart TVs with the firmware update.

Brace yourself to avoid whiplash, as LG then changed the statement on LG UK. The privacy and cookie policy was tweaked so that it now also states: “LG does not, or has ever, engaged in targeted advertisement using information collected from LG Smart TV owners.”

That’s odd, considering there was a “creepy corporate video” for LG Smart Ads that said otherwise. However, the video, as well as everything else on that site, are no longer accessible. It now simply states, “This service is currently under maintenance.”

The LG Smart Ad video claimed to have an “intelligent platform” that analyzes users’ favorite programs, search keywords and online behavior to best serve targeted ads; it also claimed that successful ads on LG Smart TV home page have been “proven by customer eye tracking tests.” If you didn’t watch it, but still want to, luckily the internet preserved copies of the LG Smart Ad video.

As LG told Graham Cluley, “LG regrets any concerns these reports may have caused and will continue to strive to meet the expectations of all our customers and the public. We hope this update clears up any confusion.” But as Cluley pointed out, LG isn’t actually sorry that LG Smart TVs can spy on users, only that users are concerned about media reports.

DoctorBeet, Jason Huntley, recommended that “LG Smart TV users check that their own TVs have disabled the option – if they feel as uncomfortable as I do with manufacturers snooping on what they’re watching.”

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.