A Hull, UK-based developer operating under the pseudonym DoctorBeet came to realize in early November that his LG Smart TV was actually gathering a quite a bit of information about him.
Briefly, the discovery went like this: DoctorBeet noticed his TV serving advertisements so he did a little research. He found a purportedly “creepy” corporate video in which LG allegedly advertised its tracking capabilities to any potential advertisers that would pay for such services. The video, of course, has since been removed.
Sure, if you didn’t pay for the product then you are the product. We get it. We all know that tech giants (and certain governments for that matter) are tracking our behaviors.
Ignoring the obvious ethical and privacy issues of behavior tracking in general and the fact that LG Smart TV users definitely DID pay for this product, the real problem here has to do with a feature in the LG Smart TV menu that lets users turn off the tracking mechanism. This may not seem like a problem until you realize that the tracking is turned on by default and – much more problematically – the TV quite cleverly continues to collect user information even if a user has opted-out so-to-speak. That’s right, turning the “collection of watching info” feature to “off” reportedly does nothing.
Furthermore, the opt-out option is somewhat hidden. According to DoctorBeet’s blog post, users would have to scroll down through the menu to find the feature that CLAIMS to disable such tracking. Beyond that even, nearly all the feature-options in the menu have a help bubble explaining what each feature does. There is no such help bubble for the option to disable tracking.
Every time a user changes the channel on his or her LG Smart TV, the TV sends a packet of information containing “analyses users favorite programs, online behavior, search keywords and other information to offer relevant ads to target audiences.”
The video would go on to claim “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.”
The TV relays this information in plain, unencrypted text. Perhaps more troubling though, DoctorBeet determined that the TV was also relaying the filename information of USB sticks plugged into his TV.
“It would easily be possible to infer the presence of adult content or files that had been downloaded from file sharing sites,” DoctorBeet wrote. “My wife was shocked to see our children’s names being transmitted in the name of a Christmas video file that we had watched from USB.”
DoctorBeet contacted LG and told them about the issue. A member of LG’s UK help desk team responded, more or less saying that users agreed to this sort of collection when they agreed to the terms and conditions of use.
So what can you do about it? Not a whole lot.
“I haven’t read the T&Cs but one thing I am sure about is that I own my router and have absolute jurisdiction of any traffic that I allow to pass, so I have compiled an initial list of internet domains that you can block to stop spying and advertising on TVs that we, as customers have actually paid for,” DoctorBeet wrote on his blog.
These domains are: ad.lgappstv.com, yumenetworks.com, smartclip.net, smartclip.com, smartshare.lgtvsdp.com, and ibis.lgappstv.com. Users must access the administrative interface of their routers in order to block domains.