LG TVs Demand Private Data in Exchange for 'Smart' Apps

If you don't agree to let your LG Smart TV gather data on you and sell it to marketers, then features such as Netflix and YouTube — the "smart" part of the Smart TV — may be disabled. That's apparently the gist of the new Terms of Use and Privacy Policy pushed out to certain LG TVs along with a recent firmware update, and at least one customer is not happy about it.

The changes to the service agreements were noticed by English blogger Jason Huntley, a.k.a. DoctorBeet. Huntley wrote on his blog earlier this month that he became aware of the new policies when he tried to access YouTube on his 10-month-old LG TV.

Huntley posted screenshots of pop-up windows that appeared on his TV, one of which notified him that "Your consent is necessary for us to provide the service. You may need to consent to more than one document to use the service."

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In November 2013, Huntley had discovered that his LG Smart TV was snooping on his home network, uploading his viewing history to LG's servers even after he had disabled the feature in the TV's settings. He noticed that the TV also uploaded the names of personal files stored on memory devices — such as USB sticks — attached to the TV. 

LG released a software update that stopped the earlier collection of viewing data. But the more recent software update, apparently dated Jan. 25 according to a transcription of the Privacy Policy that Huntley made himself and posted as a PDF on Google Docs, makes LG's monitoring practices explicit.

The new agreement implies that at least some of the "smart" features that customers paid for when they purchased their Smart TVs may be disabled if the customers do not consent to the collection of their data.

"You do not have to agree to the Privacy Policy," the document states, "but if you do not, not all Smart TV Services will be available to you."

Customers are asked to consent to collection of "viewing information," such as "the name of the channel or program watched, requests to view content, the terms you use to search for content, details of actions taken while viewing (e.g., play, stop, pause, etc.), the duration that content was watched, input method (RF, Component, HDMI) and search queries."

The agreement also covers "basic usage information," such as "information regarding external devices connected to the Smart TV" and "voice information" including "voice commands and associated data." The agreement adds that "if your spoken word includes personal or other sensitive information, such information will be among the Voice Information captured through your use of voice recognition features."

Huntley did not post a transcript of the Terms of Use agreement, but a reader of his blog posted a link to several pages on a British LG website containing the agreement.

On that website, the "Viewing Information" page states that, "this consent agreement describes what Viewing Information we may obtain from your Smart TV and how we use such information. Unless you consent, you will not be able to access certain Smart TV Services, such as viewing recommendations, searching functionality, our interactive 'Live Plus' service, and our 3D World video-streaming service."

The documents do not make clear how third-party apps would be affected by a customer's refusal to accept the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy, but they do state that "we do not accept any responsibility for apps, services or content provided by third-party providers."

"Other services owned and operated by third parties, such as content providers like Netflix and YouTube," the Privacy Policy states, "are outside the scope of this Privacy Policy and have their own policies that apply to the collection, use, and sharing of information."

Customers are not required to agree to the Voice Information policy, and can disable it separately of the main Terms of Use/Privacy Policy required to use the TV. Still, if customers don't read through the entire agreement and then seek out the Voice Information policy separately, their voice data will apparently still be collected.

All of this information will be anonymized and used for targeted advertising, the agreements say.

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These new Terms of Use and Privacy Policy agreements seem to affect LG customers in the United Kingdom and the European Union. It's not clear if American customers are or will be affected; the snooping Huntley discovered in November did not apply to North American LG models.

However, the Privacy Policy Huntley posted refers to a "zip code," a U.S.-specific term, as well as to a "postcode," used in other English-speaking countries. The Privacy Policy also seems to comply with the U.S. Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 by stating that LG will not deliberately collect information from persons under age 13, and will delete any such information that it does collect.

Inquiries seeking comment from LG were not immediately returned.

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

Jill Scharr is a creative writer and narrative designer in the videogame industry. She's currently Project Lead Writer at the games studio Harebrained Schemes, and has also worked at Bungie. Prior to that she worked as a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide, covering video games, online security, 3D printing and tech innovation among many subjects.