Cable Technology Feature Article
Is Your LG Smart Television Watching You As Much As You Watch It?
By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer
After the recent discovery that the PlayStation 4 may actually be watching the user as much as the user is watching it, it may not come as a surprise that new reports have emerged suggesting that LG Smart TVs may be doing something similar. The report came in following a bit of testing and some rather shocking discoveries that followed, and it all started with a few innocuous advertisements appearing on the Smart landing screen.
The reports in question begin fairly simply, with the discovery of an LG corporate video describing LG's ability to gather data on its users and convert this into targeting fodder for better advertising. For instance, the reports suggest, a system known as “LG Smart Ad” that can “analyze(s) users favorite programs, online behavior, search keywords and other information to offer relevant ads to target audiences.” The description continues on to detail how LG Smart Ad can “offer(s) useful and various advertising performance reports that live broadcasting ads cannot to accurately identify actual advertising effectiveness.” Indeed, from there, an analysis of LG television systems revealed an option in the system settings menu marked “Collection of watching info” which is set to “on” by default. There's no help balloon to describe its use, and reports indicate that it has to be scrolled down to in order to discover its existence in the first place.
What's more, based on further analysis, shutting off the collection function doesn't actually seem to stop the device from collecting information. Even with the collection function off, channel identifiers and device ID seemed to be collected and retransmitted. What's more, not even USB drives were safe, as tests continued thanks to the aid of a distinctively named file on a USB drive. The testing revealed that sometimes the names of folder contents were posted, while in other cases, nothing at all was sent, and there was very little in the way of distinguishable pattern to determine what is and isn't sent. However, in many cases, it seems that the data is going nowhere in particular, as the data in question is reportedly going to a server that's returning a 404 response. This doesn't mean that that server can't be activated and start collecting data, meanwhile, up to and including information on stored media files.
LG's response to all this, meanwhile, was that the individual stores should be alerting users to this section of the terms and conditions on the televisions in question, and some have suggested the blocking of certain domains in order to cut off LG's ability to track users.
While many are still sensitive to just how much information is being collected by everyday devices, especially in light of the PRISM affair, it certainly doesn't help to hear reports of LG devices tracking viewership and the like from a platform like the Smart TV, and particularly to hear it from someone other than LG. In terms of sheer public perception, this likely won't help LG's case much, and going into the holiday shopping season in which many electronic devices are bought as gifts, the idea that the LG televisions might be spying on users isn't likely to be helpful in terms of total LG systems sold. Either way, however, it's a disturbing development, and one that will hopefully be cleared up soon.
Edited by Cassandra Tucker