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LG Admits Its Smart TVs Spy on Users, Promises Fix

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 10 comments

UPDATE: Another blogger has examined his LG Smart TV and found that the device was uploading file names not just from attached external storage devices, but from all files shared across his home network.

LG Smart TVs do collect information such as channels watched and the names of locally stored media files, LG Electronics confirmed in an email to Tom's Guide today.

The transmission of this data occurs even if users try to disable the function in their TV's settings — but LG promises to correct this with a firmware update.

According to LG's statement, all LG Smart TVs automatically use owners' home Internet connections to transmit what LG calls "viewing information": the channel or app currently being watched, the time it's being watched and more.

MORE: 13 Security and Privacy Tips for the Truly Paranoid

This transmission occurs even if users have turned off an option called "collection of watching info" in their TV settings. LG uses TV owners' viewing information to sell targeted advertisements that appear on the Smart TV's home screens.

Earlier this week, British blogger and IT professional Jason Huntley, known online as DoctorBeet, documented this behavior on his LG Smart TV by doing a traffic analysis of his home router.

LG's statement confirms that Huntley's findings were accurate.

"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," an LG representative said in an email.

In other words, LG Smart TVs do gather and transmit your viewing information to LG's servers, no matter what — but if you've tried to turn off "collection of watching info" in your TV's settings, then the company doesn't store the transmitted information, LG said.

That response may do little to ease privacy concerns. However, LG added that it was working on a firmware update "for immediate rollout" that would stop such transmissions altogether if the "collection of watching info" option is disabled.

LG also confirmed Huntley's other allegation: that his LG Smart TV was transmitting the names of his personal media files, such as home videos and pictures stored on USB thumb drives connected to the TV.

The company's representative said that while a collection mechanism for media file names was, indeed, in place, actual collection never occurred. "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," the representative said.

"This feature, however, was never fully implemented, and no personal data was ever collected or retained," the statement added. "This feature will also be removed from affected LG Smart TVs with the firmware update."

LG did not say exactly when the firmware update could be expected.

Email jscharr@techmedianetwork.com or follow her @JillScharr and Google+.  Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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  • 2 Hide
    pbrigido , November 21, 2013 1:00 PM
    I enjoy watching TV. I don't enjoy when my TV watches me.
  • 2 Hide
    Onus , November 21, 2013 1:07 PM
    The only way I'd consider a LG TV after this is if I put it behind a firewall that only allowed access to a whitelist of content providers. I am not a herd animal to be milked by advertising, "targeted" or otherwise.
  • 2 Hide
    wemakeourfuture , November 21, 2013 1:30 PM
    Disgusting behavior by LG.
    I sense a lawsuit and with good right.
  • Display all 10 comments.
  • 1 Hide
    skit75 , November 21, 2013 1:41 PM
    Spy all you want LG. I only require that you openly disclose in common language what it is you are capturing and I want my hardware at half price since your cost to build the TV is now being subsidized by advertising.
  • 0 Hide
    clonazepam , November 21, 2013 2:04 PM
    That's BS about the metadata excuse. They send filenames to LG's server, then look up metadata for the names on LG's servers, then transmit the metadata back to the user? I call BS on all of that nonsense.

    As they have supposed in the blog, they don't have to store anything on the server, as the log files contain most pertinent information that data miners would be interested in.
  • 0 Hide
    dextermat , November 21, 2013 3:20 PM
    BTW lg has the worse tv's right now! Just saying.
  • -2 Hide
    kathye , November 21, 2013 3:28 PM
    uptil I looked at the draft which was of $8125, I accept ...that...my mother in law woz like they say realey earning money part-time from there new laptop.. there moms best frend had bean doing this for under 6 months and by now paid for the loans on there apartment and bought a great Alfa Romeo. Get More Info........ www.buzz16.com
  • 0 Hide
    vaughn2k , November 21, 2013 4:40 PM
    Wondering why the engineers of LG want to do this? ;) 
  • 0 Hide
    destruya , November 22, 2013 5:23 AM
    The bigger issue is...

    ...if they're doing this on their televisions, what are they doing on their *phones*, especially since LG has one of the most stringent anti-root attitudes of all Android phone makers.
  • 0 Hide
    TeraMedia , November 22, 2013 6:24 AM
    "Oh shoot! They figured out that we're transmitting filenames! What excuse can we come up with for that?"
    "How about that we're looking up *metadata*. Yeah! That's the ticket! We were trying to provide a useful *service* to the users!"

    Anyone want to get in line to be "serviced"?
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