We already know that hackers can access your Internet-connected smart TV to snoop on you and your family. What we didn’t know until this week was that, sometimes, it’s the TV maker doing the snooping.
Such is the case with LG, which came under fire this week after IT consultant Jason Huntley discovered that his LG Smart TV continued to collect data about his viewing habits even after he’d activated the television’s privacy settings to stop that from happening.
After doing some analysis of the data sent from his TV to LG’s servers, Huntley found that “viewing information appears to be being sent regardless of whether this option is set to On or Off,” he wrote on his blog. “This information appears to be sent back unencrypted and in the clear to LG every time you change channel, even if you have gone to the trouble of changing the setting above to switch collection of viewing information off.”
Huntley also discovered that his LG TV also sent to company servers the names of files and folders that were present on USB drives he’d plugged into his Smart TV. This did not happen consistently, but it happened enough for Huntley to find multiple examples of his file and folder names being delivered to LG.
To make matters worse, LG customer service was dismissive of Huntley’s complaint about the ineffective privacy settings, telling him in an email that because he “accepted the Terms and Conditions on [his]TV,” there was nothing the company could do. He says he didn’t even bother to ask them about the leaking of file names because he figured he would get the same response.
Now that the issue is out in the open, however, LG has changed its tune. In a statement to the press, LG said, “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.”
The company added that “no personal data was ever collected or retained” through the customer viewing data collection functionality, which is solely intended “to deliver more relevant advertisements and to offer recommendations to viewers based on what other LG Smart TV owners are watching.” We should also point out that no data can be transmitted if the TV is not connected to the Internet.
LG said it will release a firmware update for affected Smart TVs “that will correct this problem … so when this feature is disabled, no data will be transmitted.” There’s no word yet on when the firmware update will arrive, or which model Smart TVs are affected.